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The Boat Race winner and Cambridge PhD student who loves Eddie’s volunteer role

By Gemma Gardner

Eddies in Waterbeach, volunteers for volunteers week, Alice White. Picture: Keith Heppell
Eddies in Waterbeach, volunteers for volunteers week, Alice White. Picture: Keith Heppell

As a student Alice White felt like her life was “becoming a bit too focused on me”. She’s now a volunteer with Eddie’s, a Waterbeach-based charity that supports people with learning difficulties in Cambridgeshire, and spends time every two weeks with a young child with autism.

Eddies in Waterbeach. Picture: Keith Heppell
Eddies in Waterbeach. Picture: Keith Heppell

“To be honest being a student is quite selfish,” she says. “You don’t have a lot but you don’t have to give a lot either. You don’t have kids depending on you, you don’t have to look after anyone else, you generally just go around and do what you want, and as long as you finish your essays on time then it’s fine.”

Alice is one of 135 regular volunteers at Eddie’s, which annually helps 650 children, young people and adults with learning difficulties, their families and carers.

But she is also in the first year of her PhD at Cambridge University where she is working in the Department of Clinical Neuroscience studying cognition in Huntington’s disease. And earlier this year Alice was part of the victorious Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club team.

“I chose to volunteer because I felt like my life as a student was becoming a bit too focused on me,” she explains. “I chose to volunteer with Eddie’s in particular because I really enjoy spending time with kids, and the team at Eddie’s is so friendly and mindful of the best ways to help the families involved with them.”

Eddies in Waterbeach, volunteers for volunteers week, Marika Newman. Picture: Keith Heppell
Eddies in Waterbeach, volunteers for volunteers week, Marika Newman. Picture: Keith Heppell

Alice is a family support volunteer and spends a few hours every couple of weeks with a young boy with autism. This gives his mother a break and the chance to spend some quality time with her other, older son.

Alice, who was born in Yorkshire and moved to New Zealand when she was young, had worked with young people with autism before while working on a research study during her undergraduate studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“I did that for two years, hanging out with kids with autism and it was loads of fun,” she says. “Then I came to Cambridge and didn’t volunteer for a year because I was rowing and it was a lot on my plate.

“I was focused on my training, my physiology and my recovery – what my heart rate was when I woke up, what my heart rate was during training, how much protein I needed and calories – and you have to do it in order to perform, but that’s not how I want to define myself.

“Rowing is a commitment but it needs to have a start and an end. For me, I didn’t want to do something that wasn’t for me.”

Aside from the satisfaction that comes from helping others, Alice feels like she is finding new ways to appreciate Cambridge that most students normally wouldn’t get. Spending time with the family she is paired with gives her a perspective that she hasn’t found elsewhere.

“One year we constructed the decorations for and decorated the Christmas tree together. Seeing the child I work with so proud of what we did was so rewarding,” Alice recalls.

Alice plans to keep on volunteering with the family as it works well with her PhD schedule.

“It’s very low commitment with just a couple of hours every two weeks – it’s not even rigid timing. It’s whatever works for you and the family,” she says.

There are a number of different options for volunteering at the charity – retired radiographer Dawn Carey volunteers with Eddie’s art group. She spends each Wednesday working on both drama and art projects with the charity’s users.

“I wanted to work for a charity that wasn’t quite at the forefront and whose needs are always recognised,” she says. “I get a lot out of it. It’s really enjoyable.”

Helen Thurley, head of services at Eddie’s, said: “Our services are lifelines to our members but our volunteers also gain so much from the experiences themselves, reporting back improved wellbeing and the development of new skills.

“We’re incredibly thankful to them and the fantastic work they do.”

The award-winning charity has been supporting people with learning difficulties in Cambridgeshire for more than 10 years. It was once part of Cambridgeshire Mencap.

It supports children, young people and adults with learning difficulties and family carers in Cambridgeshire – and aims to help improve confidence, skills, social inclusion and reduce financial hardship.

To help achieve this, Eddie’s offers a range of activities for its users including art, music and theatre workshops, gardening therapy, training and employment services and a toddler and baby group for children with Down’s syndrome.

To find out more about volunteering for Eddie’s, email volunteer@eddies.org.uk.


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