When Sharon came in from the rain, she found her place in community!
Read her story, in her own words…
My name is Sharon and I was born profoundly deaf into a hearing family.
I grew up in a small village in Hertfordshire called Redbourn and was the only deaf person in the village. I had no communication at all until the age of 3 because there was no deaf awareness or recognition of British Sign Language back then. I attended residential school for the deaf from the age of 3 until I was 16, and during that time I learned how to use my voice by undergoing extensive speech therapy. Unfortunately sign language was discouraged by my parents.
In my early 20s I joined a deaf club – my parents were against this and tried to stop me from going, but I still went with the support from my social worker for the deaf. I was determined to go and meet new deaf friends, and learn sign language.
I will never forget my first visit to Liberty Tea Rooms!
There was a big celebration going on in Bank Court, because the Water Gardens was being opened. Town was really busy with people everywhere and it was raining! I had passed LTR many times and never got round to going in, but because of the rain my friends and I went inside LTR to get out of the rain, and I remember it was very busy, but eventually we had somewhere to sit.
I was signing away with my deaf friends and the business owner came over to our table and signed “Hello, how are you?” and “How can I help?” We were surprised to see her signing as it normally doesn’t happen in public places. It turned out that she knew my friend from years ago, what a surprise! We all continued signing away together and Kerry-Anne introduced herself and explained what Liberty Tea Rooms was all about and how it is run with volunteers. I asked Kerry-Anne if there was a volunteering position available and I took the form home with me. I really wanted to get involved but was uncertain how it would work
I remember thinking, “How will I manage talking to the guests and the volunteers?”
I emailed Kerry-Anne these concerns and after a few emails back and forth, I eventually went in for an interview. Kerry-Anne and I chatted together using sign language and we both realised that we had grown up in the same village! In fact I was the first deaf person she had ever met! She was just a little girl at the time and didn’t learn sign language until many years later as an adult. I was really amazed at that!
We then discussed which roles I would be interested in or best suited for, but I did not have a particular role in mind. It was suggested that Wait Staff would be a good position for me, but I was worried as I thought the potential communication barrier would be a problem. However, I was encouraged and we arranged for me to have a trial shift and see how I got on.
On my first day I was very nervous!
I worked with Grace and Jemma on my first shift and they were both very patient and helpful with lots of demonstrations. I was very grateful to them being there for me on my first day as I learned a lot from them.
By working at LTR I have overcome my fear of talking to new guests and working with different volunteers; I have gained so much confidence by meeting new people.
We have been signing a lot more and have had so many laughs and fun times with the team. At every staff meeting the whole team can learn a few signs, and we practice them together whilst on shift.
Whilst volunteering at LTR I get to work with so many amazing people – all the volunteers in the team, as well as all our lovely guests.
I’ve really enjoyed meeting all the guests. Especially the mums and babies, it’s so special! That’s what I love about being part of LTR where people from all walks of life come in.
I am proud to be a volunteer for LTR as it is such a lovely and caring place to work in. It has been fantastic to see how the diversity of our community comes together at LTR.
I really enjoy meeting new people and seeing our regular guests too. I now feel more confident to meet new guests and I lip-read guests to take their orders. I have even taught some of our guests how to do some basic sign language. They find it really interesting!
I love the fact that Liberty Tea Rooms & Community Hub are committed to live out their vision for inclusion. I am grateful to Liberty Tea Rooms for accepting me as a volunteer as there are not many businesses who would consider taking on a deaf person to work for them.
Working at LTR is not always easy, at times it can be an overwhelming experience when it gets busy. But I’m growing in confidence and my friends at LTR have really encouraged me to be bold and step out into new things. I have changed so much from when I first started and have now been made Shift Leader too, which is a really good thing – even though it’s sometimes quite scary.
I’m so happy that I came in that first day. I had no idea how it was going to change my life!
Sharon is a real inspiration to us all! She encourages us all to persevere through our challenges and always try again. Every day is an opportunity for growth. Overcoming a communication barrier means we all have to go the extra mile, we don’t always get it right, but we’ll always endeavor to do our best!
Sharon, you are a ray of sunshine at LTR, and we love having you as part of the team. Thank you for teaching us the importance of learning NEW ways to build community!
*** Now for the exciting bit! ***
CLICK HERE to learn some basic British Sign Language and surprise Sharon next time you visit!