As a young disabled person living in Monmouth, 22 year old Lewis Venner knows only too well how easy it is to become isolated in a rural area and how access to vital services, transport links and employment and educational opportunities are all crucial elements to enhance the quality of life.
Following complications during a life-saving operation to remove a tumour from his brain when he was just three years old, Lewis was left partially paralysed down the right hand side of his body. He also has epilepsy and suffers seizures every day. Unable to drive a car, Lewis felt very isolated and alone after finishing Sixth Form College in Hereford which is some 20 miles away from Monmouth where he lives.
“Unless you move to a bigger city, employment opportunities for people with disabilities in rural communities are much more difficult to come by and you have to have the ability to live independently,” says Lewis, who has aspirations of becoming a Geologist or a Palaeontologist. “I felt very isolated and alone after finishing college because I didn’t know that many people in Monmouth itself.
” I had friends at college but they were all from the Hereford area. I am also fully reliant on public transport to get to places and sometimes I can completely blank out because of the epilepsy. I also have to use my left hand and the left side of my body to do everything and I struggle to pick up heavy objects and to do tasks which are basic everyday things for most able bodied people such as washing the left hand side of my body. As determined as I am, it’s definitely more of a struggle for me than the average person.”
Through his family, Lewis was introduced to the Building Bridges project based at the Bridges Community Centre in Monmouth in November 2015. Thanks to a grant from the National Lottery Community Fund, the project has supported 130 disabled people aged 14-25 across Monmouthshire over the last three years by enabling them to overcome social isolation and take part in a wide range of social, leisure and work related opportunities. With support from the project, Lewis has been learning a range of new skills, some of which are geared towards helping him become more independent.
“I go swimming every week with other young people from the project, I’ve been on camping trips, fishing trips and I have taken part in a whole range of activities which I wouldn’t have dreamt of doing previously,” says Lewis. “I’ve made a lot of new friends here and my confidence has improved tremendously. I’ve been learning how to cook which is a challenge in itself when you can only fully use one side of your body.
” However, I realise it’s an essential skill that I have to master if I want to leave home and live independently. This project is helping me towards being able to do that. I’ve had the opportunity to speak about my experiences in front of a large crowd during a National Lottery Community Fund conference in Cardiff and I’m also volunteering at a local charity shop thanks to Building Bridges. All these experiences are helping me to develop some essential employment skills.”
Building Bridges are also supporting Lewis to pursue his dream of becoming a geologist or a palaeontologist and recently organised for him to work alongside university students on a local archaeological dig. “I’m very interested in all things related to prehistoric life and I’m hoping to go to University to study in this area and that’s why I need to learn how to become more independent,” says Lewis. “Since joining this project I’ve realised that I’m not the only one who suffers these problems and I never would have had any of these experiences if it wasn’t for Building Bridges.”
This blog is helping to promote the National Lottery Community Fund’s Rural Programme. Community groups can apply to share £13.5 million to make great thing happen in rural Wales.