When Sharon came in from the rain, she found her place in community!

My name is Sharon and I was born profoundly deaf into a hearing family. I grew up in 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 had passed LTR many times and never got round to going in, but one day I decided to go to LTR for a cup of tea with my deaf friends. I will never forget my first visit! 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!

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 Kerry-Anne came over to our table and signed "Hello, how are you?"  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 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 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 - 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, Kerry-Anne encouraged me to have a trial 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 had to overcome my fear of talking to new guests and working with different volunteers;  I have gained so much confidence by meeting new people. Kerry-Anne has been signing a lot more and we 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 practise them together whilst on shift.

Whilst volunteering at LTR I get to work with so many amazing people - the 60+ volunteers in the team, as well as all our lovely guests. It has been fantastic to see how the diversity of our community comes together at LTR.  I've really enjoyed meeting all the mothers and babies from Tiny Talk (Baby Signing classes) especially because I am able to use sign language to communicate with them. We even had an Afternoon Tea Party for one of the babies 1st birthday. It was 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.

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. She encourages us all to persevere through our challenges and always try again. Sharon is a ray of sunshine at LTR, and we love having her as part of the team. Overcoming a communication barrier means we all have to go the extra mile, we don't always get it right, but we'll always endeavour to do our best! Sharon you grow week on week, and we love seeing you flourish, thank you for your dedication and commitment, it's a real privilege having you on the team.

The Base Hemel operating as Liberty Tea Rooms & Community Hub. The Base Hemel is a UK Registered Charity number 1077335 and Company number 3826371 with offices at Liberty Tea Rooms & Community Hub, 12 Bank Court, Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, HP1 1BS. Copyright © 2017 The Base Hemel operating as Liberty Tea Rooms & Community Hub. All rights reserved.
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