So I haven't mentioned my volunteering for a long time. And there's a reason for that...
To recap: last autumn I found myself after my first meeting
at the Visual Impairment Steering Group ending up as the "peer leader" the council wanted for this, because
they're the council and they have no money to pay people to do this "peer-led" things are very on trend right now
it's important for us to have ownership of our own advocacy, or something.
I didn't mind being "leader" because it seemed to just mean answering a few e-mails and going along to stuff if my e-mails saying "hey, does anyone want to do this possibly boring or talking-to-strangers thing?" (I paraphrase!), which is pretty easy. And actually interesting, since I do like boring things -- I notice (and talk to however I'm with, as many of my friends can attest!) pavement and pedestrian crossings and stuff a lot more now that I've been to a few meetings about them. I ranted at magister
about this just yesterday in Bradford, and that was before
we almost ran into a little-kid steam train blocking walking areas in the shopping mall...).
Of course it's not just e-mail; a lot of our blind people -- especially the older ones -- don't do e-mail so you've got to ring them and they never answer and so it took a long time for me just to figure out what times they'd had their meetings back when there were
meetings, and that they wanted them to be the same.
So I e-mailed the contact from the council's sensory team about booking the room where they meet, and...somehow we haven't gotten any further than that? I've seen her once or twice and she seems happy about what I'm doing (which isn't much more than going to those couple of things she's seen me at) but...I guess there's been more chaos and turmoil in their team: people starting and leaving jobs, people being off sick, all the regular local-government bollocks.
I actually saw one of the group the other day at a bus stop, and we chatted about this; he said he'd been meaning to ask another person in the group about me and what'd happened with this. I tried to catch him up and I don't think I've done anything wrong but I feel bad anyway. They were worried about the group dying away and they were glad I'd taken over to stop that happening, and it feels like it's happening a bit anyway. But even with me happy to co-ordinate things, we do need the sensory team to help us out and communicate stuff to us.
It probably says a lot about the protestant work ethic I grew up with that whenever I hear myself thinking "there's nothing else I can do" or "it's out of my hands" I get immediately suspicious that this is an excuse for me to be lazy or apathetic. But in this case I don't really think it is! Though I might e-mail sensory-team contact person again...
The other thing I was doing was creating a tour for visually impaired people of an exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry. This was intended as a self-contained six-week placement at the end of the course I did there last summer...and it ended up taking us about six months to get it into a state we were happy with.
I owe MOSI an e-mail with all my feedback about this. Basically, everything I said about this in November
turned out to be true, and then some.
I don't think anyone had any conception of big a project they'd landed on brand-new volunteers. A little while ago I found in a stack of papers the plan the exhibit curator (who my fellow volunteer and I were working under) where all this was supposed to get done in six weeks and I laughed. There is a kind of ableism in this, in suspecting accommodation will be really straightforward and won't require any specialist skills...but it was like one of those fractals where there more closely you looked at it, the more complicated it became. Each little bit ended up being as much work as we thought the whole thing would be.
And when we did get the project sorted...it was actually pretty awesome. And as far as I know, no blind or partially sighted person ever got to take advantage of it. We got our bit done and then when the lovely volunteer coordinator said "what else do you need from us?" I said well, publicizing it. And I don't know if that ever happened, but I never heard anything (and the idea had been for me and my fellow volunteer to deliver the tours as well so I think I would've heard about it if there'd been anything!).
And again there were staff changes, again there was a lack of institutional knowledge (which was one of the hurdles I had to overcome in the first place; MOSI has had almost complete staff turnover (at the levels I'm dealing with) since 2013. And both the staff I started working with have left their jobs. And the exhibit we put all this work into is a temporary one that'll be replaced at the end of next month.
I feel strange and sad about this: I put so much work into something I'm so proud of. I learned a lot. And now all the effort will go to waste. And all the learning will too, if I don't find someone sympathetic at NOSI and explain this to them and carry on doing a lot of work for no money because if I don't it won't happen at all.
I love MOSI and I know it isn't very accessible to a lot of visually impaired people, and I'd love to help change that. But again it all feels so outside my powers as a volunteer.
Plus, I did that whole course about volunteering in heritage sites and now I'm...not really doing any. Which is a shame.
Of course this year I'm supposed to be writing a book anyway (it's going slowly
; my mental health has been unrelentingly bad these last few months and that makes it hard).
Somewhat relatedly, after a random twitter conversation -- one of those where I was complaining about everything being in London -- I ended up talking to someone very nice from Migrants Organise
who will actually be in Manchester soon and wants to chat. I felt self-conscious because I'm not part of a group or even any category of migrants that are really suffering but she seemed impressed by the book and the theme of "immigrants who don't look like immigrants" seems relevant to her; she said they'd had Western and Northern Europeans getting in touch lately saying "I've never felt unwelcome here before but..." and that kind of thing. Trying to make space for such "stealth" immigrants without getting in the way of POC needs and perspectives is something I've long been interested in
. So maybe something will come of that; I have no idea what to expect and I'm not worrying about it.
And in a slightly more "heritage" type context, I keep meaning to investigate the Portico Library
, after James and I fell in love with The Leeds Library when we were at this year's M.R. James conference there
. James is a member now and it's somewhere I absolutely love visiting with him. I have grand ideas about how much more reading, and writing, I'd do at such a place.
Of course Leeds is a bit far, but there's a subscription library in Manchester and that's the Portico. Which is a bit more open-to-the-public than the Leeds one; it has a little gallery and a cafe and lots of events that sound cool, like this about historical American books
right now. And they have volunteering opportunities
that sound perfect for me: stuff I'm interested in, expected to be the same day every week for at least three months which gives the kind of structure I like (and have been missing in both of the volunteer things I've done so far!).
But really... I need to chase up the VI steering group, I need to talk to MOSI about how not to lose any more accessibility knowledge, I need to sort out my CV if I'm going to send it to the Portico (which would be no bad thing as it needs sorting anyway)...I'm overwhelmed, and stuck, by everything right now.
I've been meaning to write this for a while, thinking I'd feel better when I did, and I think I do. It's a start, anyway.