“Joining The Garage helped save me,” says Michelle Bartram, one of our newest support workers. Now she’s on a mission to do the same for others.
When the former nanny lost her leg in a freak accident resulting from undiagnosed joint hypermobility, she thought she’d never be able to work with children again.
“I thought ‘how am I going to chase around after a child in a wheelchair? It’s not going to happen’. Something like that, you hit a black hole. It’s life changing. Working your way out of that [takes time].
“I was always told you’ve got two choices in life – sit and wallow in self-pity or pick yourself up and get on with it. I studied psychology to pull myself out and took a counselling course so I can now help other people. That’s my self-care.
“I moved to Norwich, met my partner. Life just carried on. When my daughter was born, I said once she starts school it would be time to get my life back. To get out there and do something for myself.”
It’d been 17 years since Michelle last applied for a job. When she saw we were looking for a freelance support worker to assist young people and tutors in our inclusive dance, contemporary dance, and musical theatre classes, she didn’t hesitate.
“There’s such a vibe here. You come in, everyone’s happy. If you’re having a bad day, you pick each other up and that’s what it’s about – support. We say here there are no limitations. I don’t let this wheelchair define who I am. I’m still a living, breathing, thinking person.
“I’m here to help and encourage participants get the most out of their class. Translating anything they’re struggling to process in a much simpler way until they get the hang of it and we’re having fun.
“Last term we had a participant, a very similar age to me, who was also in a wheelchair. As soon as they came into the room and saw me in a wheelchair there was a level of comfort. We called ourselves the wheelie gang and used to get a little bit of speed up.”
Michelle’s just as devoted to helping participants’ families too.
“A participant had two new diagnoses recently. I went home and researched both to see how I can support that individual. I always make the effort if parents are in the cafe to see how their week’s been. When you have a child, everyone asks how they’re doing. Well, what about the parents? They’re drained, tired, sometimes at their wits’ end.
“That’s what we do here, and that’s why I love it. It’s like therapy – just without the tears and the tissues. We all have a story. We all have things going on in our lives, but help is there – and you only live once.”
At the end of the day, if those she’s supporting leave The Garage smiling, so does Michelle.
“Working here has [helped with] my self-worth. I had a thank you card last year from a participant’s parent that’s in my living room that’ll never get taken down. In it she said, ‘you made me feel like someone cared’. Job done.”
Click the link to find out more about how you can support our work with young people via our Big Breaks Campaign. Just £15 pays for a support worker like Michelle to help in a session.
Interested in taking a class? Booking for spring opens 13 November. Click the link to find out more about all our classes. Our friendly front of house team are happy to answer any questions. Give them a call on 01603 283382 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Garage is fully accessible. Click to find out more.