What Maidstone Resource Centre means to me
18 February 2015
by Claire Hedges
There is always lots of fun and laughter at Maidstone Resource Centre. The people who use the service got together recently to celebrate the birthday of Janet, one of the centre users. The atmosphere was buzzing — everyone sang songs and ate cake. What made it special was that her friends were able to be part of her celebrations. Most of us have been coming for years and it is our lifeline. We can just be ourselves and it feels wonderful.
I have a rare degenerative disability which means I am gradually losing control of my body. At 14 years old I was diagnosed with a disease that causes nervous system damage and affects body movement. I started to use a manual wheelchair on my 18th birthday to go out and now I rely on my electric wheelchair to do most things.
It does get me down but I try to be positive. I am fortunate enough to be able to live on my own in a flat and have family and friends who pop in and help out. Other people at the centre aren’t as lucky as me. Seeing their friends is the only human contact they may have during the day.
Roy Pratt has been going to Maidstone Resource Centre for more than 10 years. If it closes, he will be stuck inside his home staring at four walls — a prospect he finds terrifying. He would be absolutely devastated if we can’t find another home for it. We all will.
I sometimes struggle with my speech which can be slurred or I may take a little extra time finding the words I need. People here are always patient. And if I don’t feel like talking then I can just enjoy the atmosphere.
Because Leonard Cheshire Disability runs the day centre, we get added benefits that you might not get elsewhere. One example of this is our communication support officer, Rosanne. She works with me to develop my communication skills so I feel confident. Dedicated volunteers also share their skills and provide some extra support with activities if we need it.
There is always a buzz at the centre. Some people get together to sew and share patterns, test their knowledge in a quiz or learn new skills. During the World Cup we made food from different countries around the world. It was a fun day and it’s these experiences that keep us going when we feel down.
Every few months we arrange a trip. A memorable experience for me was when we went to Aylesford Priory, an ancient religious house. The architecture was beautiful and I was thankful I got the chance to go as it’s not something I could do on my own.
The best time of year is Christmas when we all get together and book our favourite pub for a festive meal. We have been going there for years — the staff there know us and are very kind. Finding an accessible space that can fit in all the wheelchairs can be challenging and rare, so we make the most of it. I will miss doing things together like that if the centre doesn’t survive.
It’s not really the activities or trips that matter to me, it’s the companionship. Getting together over a cup of tea and having a chat with people who have been through similar experiences is priceless.
Claire Hedges is a regular at Maidstone Resource Centre, which has been operating for 22 years. The centre urgently needs new premises to continue supporting disabled people like Claire and Roy.