Venture Arts' Public Engagement Assistant, Amber Okpa-Stother, shares her experience of working and staying active through lockdown.
Amber first came to Venture Arts in 2008 when she joined our Young People's Art Club. She became a talented photographer, filmmaker and ceramicist, who went on to work on a variety of projects. Amber is skilled in communication and promoting understanding of people with learning disabilities. So much so that in 2018 Amber was recruited as Venture Arts' Public Engagement Assistant. We asked her to share her experience of lockdown...
"My name is Amber and my journey with Venture Arts first started when I was twelve, which is about twelve years ago now. I have been involved in many things since then, such as the schools projects, our Cultural Engagement Programme and volunteering at places like Manchester Museum and HOME.
After developing my skills over the years Venture Arts created a job opportunity for me as Public Engagement Assistant. In my role I am an advocate for people with learning disabilities and I represent Venture Arts by doing public talks. I talk about how we need to celebrate difference and make sure that people recognise what great things people with disabilities can do. I also work on reception, answering the phone and opening the door to all the different visitors we have."
How have you found lockdown?
"I have had some positive experiences. Working at home has been positive, I've had to adapt quickly and manage a new routine. It's been a challenge because I've had to work on my own, but I feel proud of myself because it has been a big step. I've learnt to manage my time and I've realised it's important to take breaks, make time for lunch and to try not to get distracted by your phone.
I've also had more time for myself during lockdown. Not having so many activities to do has helped me to focus and not having lots of pressure to do stuff has been good. I've learnt to live independently, I'm cooking new recipes and I've learnt about house cleaning and how to run a house. I've adapted to living with people I didn't know before because new housemates have moved in. My tip for living with new people is to not let things get on top of you and learn how to share things like the bathroom!"
How have you stayed active?
"I did the 2.6 Challenge during lockdown and raised over £500 for Venture Arts. I walked at least 2.6 miles a day for 26 days. I really enjoyed it as I know it will help Venture Arts going forward in the future. My favourite new thing that I have done has been learning to bake new cakes. Baking makes you escape from your worries. It's also nice to eat the cakes after and it's creative!
Venture Arts social sessions on zoom have also made such a difference because there are loads of activities, like the disco, to keep me occupied. I look forward to baking some more cakes for everyone to share at Venture Arts too as I think we all deserve some cake after all our hard work during these strange times.
What has been challenging about lockdown?
There have been some negative things. It's been hard not being able to hug my mum. I am sure it's something lots of people can relate to. I know you must keep a social distance and it's for the right reasons, so that has helped me to manage it.
Not seeing my friends during lockdown was also hard. I miss going to town, going out and about and exploring. I miss the museum too where I work in the shop. And I miss everyone at Venture Arts! Even though we see each other on zoom it's not the same. I think that everyone at Venture Arts has done really well, we've worked hard as a team. Amanda has been really good - she's helped everyone to learn new ways of working.
I have found my routine changing very challenging, as having a routine is very important for people who have autism like me. Having lots of zoom sessions in the day can also be tiring as some of them can be over an hour, which can be quite a long time to be in zoom. It's hard as I like seeing people in person.
As lockdown is easing what are you most looking forward to?
One thing I am looking forward to doing soon is staying at my mum's house. It will be like a mini holiday! It will be a bit of normality back. Going back to the museum will be good, but it will be different because we will still have to socially distance, which will be hard. And I'm looking forward to going back to Venture Arts - whenever that may be!
I would like to take this opportunity to say thanks to all the staff at Venture Arts, as it's been great working with you all in lockdown. We have all been supportive of each other during this difficult time, which has meant a lot to me. I don’t know where I would be without this amazing charity - it has helped me so much."You have helped Venture Arts so much Amber! Roll on the day we're back in the office sharing one of your amazing new cake recipes.