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Volunteer Andrea Stone was really surprised to be asked to run the creative writing group, The Mappin Writers, at SRSB because she had never done anything like that before.  After meeting the members and getting a warm welcome she agreed not to run it but to 'facilitate' it instead. Nine years on Andrea is still happily doing that – and much more besides.

“I didn’t want to be the boss and run it and be in charge. The group belongs to the members and I just facilitate it,” she said. “I come every Friday, unless I am ill, and it’s a joy.

“People rely on it every week, they love it. They have fun. It’s not all about the writing, we have evolved into a discussion group as well. People come for the company and a laugh.

“We have two subjects a week to write about and we read them out to the group. It’s very difficult after 9 years to think of topics, but I listen to the discussion and that gives me ideas. It’s quite organic. I don’t insist that people stick to the subject, they can write about what they like, even if it is only a few lines we appreciate every effort.”

Over the years the core group has grown from a Magnificent Seven to 14 – still magnificent in Andrea’s opinion, but younger and more diverse. “Sometimes with wheelchairs and guide dogs it can be quite cosy but there’s always room to squeeze extras in.”

The highlight of the year for the group is a big event when their work is presented to a public audience as part of the Off the Shelf Festival in Sheffield.

“The first time I was asked to do it, well it was panic stations. My head was spinning about how to fill two hours, to time the readings and to choose which pieces to use. I read every bit of work throughout the year myself, it takes hours and hours to choose. I enjoy doing it. After 9 years it does get easier but I am still nervous.”

Andrea first started volunteering at SRSB when she was looking for a new direction in life after ending a stressful and high pressure job which had affected her mental health “I didn’t want to be doing anything with massive responsibility, making a profit for someone else. It had to have a fun element where I could get involved with groups and activities. It was a local charity helping Sheffield people and I liked that.

“I came to an open day and I was very impressed. I started off volunteering in the dining room and other events and then I found my place in Creative Writing and I have never looked back.

“There is so much going on here, you don’t realise until you read the newsletter and see all the things that are happening, all the new things and the broadness of it.”

The volunteering also led to Andrea by chance starting a new career as a personal assistant for people with Visual Impairment, which she now does 4 days a week.

“It changed my life really. I came along and didn’t know where it was going. I just allowed the tide to take me where it’s taken me and embraced it. When I first came I was made to feel so at home and valued and welcome. “

Andrea’s work as a volunteer has been recognised - she was a runner-up in Volunteer of the Year and received a High Sheriff award. But for her, it’s the group which is important. 

“I am very protective of the Creative Writing group. If I didn’t come here I would feel a loss.  I just come in and do my little bit and go. I know I am appreciated by them, that’s all that matters. It’s good enough for me.”

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