My son was eight when he was diagnosed with ADHD and autism. But our challenges began long before that. He was really struggling and we were dealing with lots of challenging behaviour, had little to no support from school, were finding it impossible to get appointments with the paediatrician and were filled with worry and self-doubt… was it our parenting?? Were we going mad?? Was it me??!

I can’t even remember how I first discovered SPACE but thank goodness I did! I do remember that there was a speaker coming along to the group that they run in Hoddesdon covering a subject that caught my eye. I was so nervous about going I couldn’t bring myself to go by myself and persuaded my husband to come along with me. We were in the system at this point but it was pre-diagnosis and I wasn’t really sure that we really belonged there. Autism and ADHD was a whole new, and to be honest, very scary world and we were feeling very alone.

All of that changed the moment we walked into the SPACE group. It was full of friendly faces. We were given cups of tea immediately, put at ease, and straight away I felt very comfortable. It’s difficult to describe but it was like I had finally found ‘my pack’ or ‘my tribe’. It wasn’t just me! I wasn’t going mad!

My involvement with SPACE snowballed from there. After the first group meeting I was of course happy going along by myself and enjoyed listening to the talks, seeing the friendly faces, having a cuppa and a breather, taking some time out for me. It got to the point where I missed the group if I didn’t go so even if the speaker they had one month wasn’t particularly relevant to me I still went along to enjoy the company, friendship and solidarity.

I’m so glad I made myself go along to that first meeting and discovered them pre-diagnosis as SPACE supported me all the way through. Making sure I didn’t give up when I was feeling defeated, picking me up and having my back as I went in for what felt like yet another battle with school or services. Put simply, this group of people who until very recently had been strangers were just always there for us when we needed them to be.

It was the SPACE team who suggested my son tried the sessions at Herts Young Mariners Base. It’s not something I would have considered for him as we didn’t really think he would do it, but with their encouragement decided to give it a try. When he joined in with the rafting I was so very proud of him as I never really thought I would see the day that he joined in with that sort of activity. And he was so proud of himself as he never thought he would be able to do it either. It’s a cliché but I thought I would burst seeing the look of pride and happiness on his face. I think it was the no pressure environment that just worked for him – he didn’t have to do anything he didn’t want to and that sort of made him able to do it after all.

During the 2020 Lockdown SPACE continued to be an absolute lifeline – I did every virtual zoom group and workshop going. It really did help us keep sane.

I started volunteering for them when they put out a call for extra hands to help at some of their events. There is so much demand and so much they want to be able to put on for our children but the activities can only happen if they are staffed. I just sort of thought ‘why not?!’.

It really does feel as if you are part of something special and I think that is because you are! SPACE are so supportive, they play such a big and important part in our community, I wanted to give back a little of what I had got from them.

I have to admit that when I first volunteered to volunteer I was concerned that I wouldn’t be knowledgeable enough and was apprehensive that as someone representing them I would perhaps be out of my depth. Those fears were quickly eased however. They provided some training and assured us that we would never be put into any situation we weren’t comfortable with. There is always a member of the SPACE team present and as a volunteer you can take on as much or as little as you want. You are never on your own.

I have worked at a number of their events now including Herts Young Mariners, the driving experiences, Ranger Stu, the Girls Group in Hertford and I am also just about to start working at Lending SPACE on a Monday morning as well. Sometimes my son comes and joins in the activities and sometimes he doesn’t. To be honest, I view my time working with SPACE as just that – ‘my time’!

I can’t begin to tell you how rewarding volunteering for SPACE is. When I started I thought I was ‘giving back’ but it turns out I’ve just gained more and more. The highlights for me are probably Herts Young Mariners and the Driving. Seeing these often nervous, unconfident kids overcome themselves is just amazing. The look of pride on their faces is priceless as is the look (often tears!) on their parents faces at seeing their children achieve something they maybe didn’t think was possible.

If you are thinking about potentially volunteering for SPACE I would encourage you to give it a go. You have absolutely nothing to lose. If you find out it’s not for you that’s fine and the team completely understand. But if you find out it is for you you may well find out that you get a lot more back from it than you ever imagined you would. The smiles on the kids faces just mean so much.

Thank you so much to Tina for sharing her story with us. If you are interested in volunteering read on!

Donating your time is a huge help to us – we welcome new volunteers with open arms. Whether you are working directly with our families, supporting our trainers, or helping to manage things behind the scenes, the commitment and passion of our volunteers helps us make a real difference to local Hertfordshire families with children and young people on the autistic spectrum and/or with ADHD.

As Tina explained in her story, training is always given and you can volunteer on an ad hoc basis or more regularly; you will only ever be asked to do what you are comfortable with.

If you are interested in find out more about volunteering we would love to have a chat with you – please get in touch.