24 February 2022

Out of Office: making it count

Farrer Kane PR Assistant Catherine Winterton on the debt she owes Oundle Mencap Holiday for the laughter and the learning this special charity has given her over the years, and what it means to find shared values in the workplace.

In this age of twitter threads and hot takes, misinformation and deep fakes, it feels like few things can make definitive, indelible impressions upon us. It is easy to feel suspicious of the world, or, at least, jaded. However, as blog posts that begin with such sweeping generalisations tend to present, I do know of one exception. Every summer a group of the most extraordinary people I have ever met gather in a small town near Peterborough for a week to sing; swim; dazzle in dressing up fashion shows; do arts and crafts; sing and swim some more; learn circus skills; paint faces and, often, clothes, and with whatever gloopy foodstuffs have been chosen for sensory play that day; go on theme park rides; and, always, sing and swim again.

This wonderful, energetic, sometimes sun-drenched and sometimes damp, week in August is called the Oundle Mencap Holiday, a residential holiday for young people with special educational needs and disabilities between the ages of 8 and 18. Running for over 35 years now, volunteers provide constant 1 to 1 care to holiday makers of all levels of ability in a week jam-packed with fun, safe and stimulating activities that are never not (at least in one room of the holiday houses) soundtracked by Frozen or The Greatest Showman. The pure joy of this week cannot be contained by these flat words on a page - see clips of our last holiday for yourself here.

I have been fortunate enough to be a part of OMH since I was 16, when I wanted to get involved to learn how to build a better relationship with a family member with cerebral palsy. Over the years, I have seen holiday makers grow up and out of the age bracket (though OMH now runs two camping weekends for older and more able-bodied holiday makers too), first-year helpers grow into their confidence, and volunteers who were group leaders in my early years become members of the senior team with the all-important walkie talkies and crucial roles in the famous OMH sing-song circle held each evening before bed. Looking around the circle at these sing songs, it feels like everyone, volunteers and holiday makers alike, is the very best of themselves.

To OMH I owe my deepest laughs, and it is both inconceivable and devastating that too many people won't experience something similar. The holiday has taught me so much about ways to build connections with other people, about what I am capable of, and about the energy I want to bring into the world. Of course, it feels good to be giving our holiday makers a safe, exciting week, indulged by a bunch of new friends willing to be wrapped around their little finger, and it's wonderful too that their parents can then take a week for themselves or their siblings. But, as one of the senior team on the holiday once said to me, OMH is probably also the most selfish thing I have ever done. If you clicked through to the video linked above, you'll have more than an inkling as to why.

Holding the place in my heart that OMH does, I was pleased to learn upon my arrival at Farrer Kane last summer that one of my clients would be Support SEND Kids a charity connecting SEND families, professionals, and lawyers on a free to access knowledge hub aiming to improve the application process for Education, Health and Care Plans for SEND pupils that Farrer Kane supports on a pro bono basis. We talk much about the value of CSR initiatives when working in communications, and I'm pleased to attest the sense of purpose you feel when your job provides you with an opportunity to so directly reflect your own values.

Given it is difficult to talk about anything to do with charities without either seeming posturing or, in the context of a workplace blog, mercurial, I want to capitalise on this moment to support OMH as much as I can. OMH's JustGiving page can be found here and any contributions made will go towards providing this unrivalled treasure and another instalment of Youtube's unofficial happiest video of the year. For that, I thank you on behalf of the whole team.