Why Volunteer?

‘Volunteers are the only human beings on the face of the earth who reflect this nation’s compassion, unselfish caring, patience, and just plain love for one another.’ Erma Bombeck

This week is Volunteers’ Week – an annual celebration of the fantastic contribution millions of volunteers make across the UK. This year, Volunteers’ Week focuses on saying ‘Thank You’ to all the volunteers who regularly contribute to society, and on recognising the way that organisations celebrate the work of volunteers across the UK.

Volunteering takes time, commitment, dedication and passion. So why do millions of people volunteer in Scotland each year? Perhaps some of the short stories below can answer that question for us.

“I applied to volunteer at Dyslexia Scotland because I felt I had skills to offer an organisation dedicated to something that has great significance to me. I have the opportunity to gain new skills, while applying the skills I already have and contributing towards Dyslexia Scotland’s mission. I have only been volunteering with Dyslexia Scotland for a short time, but I am really enjoying it and feel it is also benefiting my long-term goals. After graduating from university, I have found it difficult to get a graduate job in my field; I have a full time day job (only in part related to my career aspiration) and feel that volunteering will give me a chance to expand my horizons while making a real contribution.”

“I volunteer with my local dyslexia group, Dyslexia Scotland Forth Valley helping out at their open meetings which they hold throughout the year. Volunteering is important to me as I enjoy meeting new people and catching up with the many friends that I have made through my volunteering role.”

“Having finished a contract for a job where I felt undervalued, I wasn’t ready to apply for another job, but I needed something worthwhile to give my day some structure and my self-worth a boost. In the past I volunteered with Citizens Advice Direct as a Helpline Adviser so I was encouraging a former colleague to think about volunteering to help her job prospects – and I realised it was something I should consider myself. One visit to the Volunteer Scotland website and I found an opportunity to help Legal Services Agency organise seminars and training courses. It was right up my street! I spent 6 months helping the Seminar Manager make sure events ran smoothly. I devised a new feedback form and collated all the course evaluations for the past year to make reporting easier – but I never learned how to work the dishwasher. When I saw my current post advertised, I knew that my two spells as a volunteer meant I had relevant, recent experience to talk about at the interview – and it worked – or I wouldn’t be writing this now.”

“I have found volunteering such a great thing to do. I have volunteered many times with my local Archery Club at ‘Come and Try’ events where the public gets the chance to try archery – possibly a sport that they have never tried or thought of before. I have stood out in the rain for hours, dealt with children as young as 3 or 4 years old where the bow is bigger than them!, as well as having to contend with fully armoured re-enactment knights all keen to find out how to shoot arrows out of a bow! To see the delight on a wee kiddie’s face when (or if) they hit the target is such a buzz!! Or to see a grown man fail miserably to hit a target a 10 year old can manage easily is quite a laugh but adds to the fun of it all. Local clubs do rely heavily on volunteers to do these events to raise awareness, raise money etc., so I never fail to volunteer whenever I can.”

“I worked with people with learning disabilities for nearly 15 years and I missed the interaction with some amazing people. I now occasionally volunteer as a supporter of self advocacy groups of people who need support to have their voice heard in their local communities. I have also recently agreed to become a Trustee of a small advocacy organisation for people with learning disabilities – so after years of sitting in on board meetings I will now be taking part in them! I’m looking forward to the new skills this will give me as well as the chance to meet some really inspiring people.”

We would like to extend a huge thank you to all of the volunteers at Dyslexia Scotland who keep our wheels turning. Without your hard work, dedication and compassion, Dyslexia Scotland really would struggle to run as a charity. So thank you, thank you for your hard work, your dedication, your passion and your smiles!

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Practise What You Preach

I have always been passionate about volunteering which probably stems from my dad, even though I don’t like to admit it. My dad is a man of many skills and interests, and volunteering for a good cause is certainly at the heart of his priorities. These have been passed onto me.

I first started volunteering when I was 14 at East Lothian Special Needs Playscheme. This is a charity that runs events for young people with additional support needs. It was great as a young teenager as I was given a lot of responsibility and met a lot of friends that I am still in contact with today. I usually worked on a 1:1 with a young person; we would go swimming or to the zoo, soft play or for a walk in the sunshine. It was an excellent way to fill my school holidays. I volunteered every year and became a Group Leader in my 5th and 6th year at school. This was an honour as I had always looked up to my Group Leaders when I was a volunteer.

Before University, I decided that I wanted to do some volunteering abroad. I worked in a special needs orphanage in Sri Lanka and taught English in a special need women’s home for over a year. In Sri Lanka, disability is something that there is not a lot of awareness about. If a child is born with a disability they are often abandoned on the street and become orphans. At the orphanage where I volunteered, there were 30 young people and 1 carer. The carer, another international volunteer, and I looked after the young people and the orphanage. It was hard work and long hours. However, it was a fantastic experience and a volunteering job that I will never forget. Being surrounded by 30 brothers and sisters who had such complex needs but were always smiling, was just inspirational.

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After University, I decided that I would like to work in the charity sector and got offered a job as Volunteer Recruitment Officer for an International Development Charity. This was ideal – I got to spend my days encouraging young people to volunteer and training volunteers who were going to be doing similar roles as I did in Sri Lanka. The enthusiasm and drive that these volunteers had really encouraged me to pursue a job that was working with volunteers. This brings me to my current employment as Volunteers Manager with Dyslexia Scotland. I have the privilege of working with volunteers every day. As I spend a lot of time encouraging people to volunteer, I am a firm believer in practising what you preach.

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I currently volunteer for a few charities. I am a Cub Leader with a local Scout Group. I currently have 36 Cubs and we meet every Tuesday. We often go camping and on various different trips. My friends often ask me why I do this and if I am completely honest, it is for selfish reasons. I love working with kids and I enjoy the outdoors. I enjoy every session and don’t feel like it is a strain on my time. It takes a lot of planning and organisation but again, this is not a chore for me.

I also currently volunteer with Shannon Trust which is a charity that promotes literacy within the Prison Service. As I studied Criminology at University, I feel like I am using some of my skills in a positive way.


When I have a spare afternoon, I look after a young boy with autism. I have known Kevin for a long time and I love spending time with him. It allows his parents some time for respite and means Kevin and I can go and explore.

I will be leaving Dyslexia Scotland on the 22nd June, but only for a month (you can’t get rid of me that easily…) I am heading to Zambia and Botswana to do some volunteer work with a group of Scouts. Again, I will benefit hugely from the experience I will gain and the skills that I will learn. I will be taking a few days off to go white water rafting in the Zambezi river! Wish me luck, I have a feeling I might need it!

Let’s face it; volunteering is fun, rewarding and really does make a difference. Why not give it a go? Whether you hold a coffee morning to raise money, spare a few hours to work in a charity shop, be part of a committee or joining a Brownie group. The opportunities are endless, as are the rewards.

Challenging preconceptions, Rethinking Dyslexia

So we have come to the end of our series of screenings of The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia (don’t worry if you have not managed to see it yet, there are still showings in some of our local branches, look here for details) and we have to say its success has exceeded our expectations. While we knew there was a great demand for this to be shown again after its success in Dyslexia awareness week 2012, we never expected the type of response we have received.

We showed the film to a packed house in Dumfries, Stornaway and Stirling, with an additional showing held in Glasgow organised by our wonderful volunteer Jamie-Max which sold out in record time.

The feedback we have received has been overwhelming, both from those who were involved and those who came along to see it.

“the feedback from last night’s screening in Stirling has been amazing. So positive.

Just want to know if we will be able to purchase a copy of this to use as CPD for all our staff and anyone who was unable to attend. It seems to have been a real eureka moment and it would be great to share it with an even wider audience”

“This is a great film and wish it would be shown to all schools, administrators, and decision makers! I took my 7 year old daughter, who has dyslexia, to see it in Indiana. It is really encouraging”

“This film was realistic and incredibly inspiring – a definite must see!”

“My 13 year old was happy to see it, but in truth I probably got more out of it as a parent. I would love my daughter to see it again in a couple of year’s time when she’s considering her next educational step. Having said that there’s definitely a strong argument for general viewing as it beautifully dispels the myths and uncertainties about what dyslexia is and isn’t, as well as presenting a ‘think differently’ approach to dyslexia, for both those with dyslexia and those who know very little about it.”


Panel members at our Stirling showing said:

“Having suffered from dyslexia all my life I was very unsure of what the film would be about but after the first 5 minutes I was hooked and it was a most enjoyable experience. I have to say at point I was brought to tears as it brought back a lot of bad memories of childhood and the struggles that I had to overcome. As the film moved forward it was great to hear so many positive stories and it brought a lot of hope and motivation to other young people. Being a member of the panel was great and it is so good to see so many families in the audience as it bring hope that people are really keen to help young people become the best they can”. Paul McNeill

“I was grateful to Dyslexia Scotland for asking me to be on the panel after the showing of the film. As chair of Unite Scotland Youth committee I engage with young adults on work related issues – people who are trying to find work or speaking about rights in the workplace and things that can affect people from day to day. During the panel discussion, the question that stands out to me was ‘I’m just finishing uni and the jobs I will be going for involve a lot of reading and writing – do I put it down on my CV that I have dyslexia?’

I have heard this question a few times – sometimes about dyslexia and sometimes about other disabilities. My answer is usually the same – it is your choice whether you do this. You could also tell them at a later stage, again this is your choice. A company should not discriminate against you if you have a disability of any shape or form – but whether this happens is another matter.

I find that lack of knowledge about what dyslexia means in the workplace is usually the problem. Usually less informed Human Resources staff think it means that someone can’t read or write. (This is the answer I have got back on more than one occasion.)

I think this is the thing that needs to be tackled for the sake of people like the young man who asked the question. He has run the same race as everyone else but with massive hurdles and has managed to overcome them. But there is a problem that the company or profession that he wants to go into won’t look at his form and say ‘Dyslexia – great, an out of the box thinker with the ability to connect ideas and problem solve – we need someone like that on the team!’

They might ask what they can do to help him – and he might say he needs more time. To lots of companies time is money and all his other talents will be overlooked.

I hope he doesn’t face discrimination for having dyslexia. More awareness-raising needs to be done and companies challenged on their application process” Jamie- Max Caldwell

Creative Stirling (Read the interview with Lena Gillies our National Development Officer and Creative Stirling here)

We are overwhelmed by the response and the popularity of these events, but know that there are still many people who could benefit from seeing The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia.

We were Kings and Queens of Glamour

On 2nd May 2013 Dyslexia Scotland attending a star studded reception at the Grand Hall in Edinburgh Castle honouring the work of Dyslexia Scotland.

We were lucky enough to be one of the First Minister’s chosen charities in his Christmas card appeal in December 2012 – the painting of the Christmas card by Elizabeth BLackadder was displayed at the reception and will be auctioned later in 2013, with proceeds shared between the 4 chosen charities including Dyslexia Scotland.

We were also delighted that an amazing £100,000 was announced at the event by the Scottish Government to help to ensure that Dyslexia Scotland can continue to achieve our goals and raise awareness of Dyslexia.’

We had a fantastic evening from being piped into the event, being entertainment by musicians Eilidh Steel and Mark Neal and mingling with our ambassadors, volunteers as well as other honoured guests. It gave us the opportunity to get our glad rags on, meet some interesting and inspiring people and of course view the wonderful treasures that the Castle has to offer.

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We would like to thank everyone who came along to the event and hope everyone enjoyed it as much as we did. Dyslexia Scotland relies on the continued support of its volunteers, ambassadors and staff and we were so happy that we were able to share this honour with so many of them.

I could tell people I was not ‘thick’- but Dyslexic!

My name is Donnie Macaskill, I have been told I started school in Glasgow, speaking only Gaelic. I found myself put in a corner with a non-English speaking girl. This was isolating enough but when it became clear that I had difficulties in understanding letters and writing, life at school became more and more unbearable. My inability to learn to read and write had me labelled as ‘unable to be educated‘. This label followed me throughout my school life and my school days were the worst days of my life.

They set a pattern for my life, I worked in jobs that required little or no written work and changed jobs when the written work increased. This has left me with self-esteem issues which have surfaced in every area of my life.

In my late 30’s I was encouraged to undergo testing for Dyslexia and I was actually relieved to be told that I was severely Dyslexic. At least I could tell people I was not ‘thick‘ – but Dyslexic!

Although I have now taught myself to read and I am confident in my reading ability, my dyslexia means that I find writing almost impossible. I find forming letters and words very, very difficult and for me writing is a highly stressful, laborious task. I find it most frustrating that other people cannot seem to comprehend the anxiety and stress that being asked to write causes me.

Donnie is a member Dyslexia Scotland Hebrides and attends our Adult Network:

The Adult Network is a support group for people over 18 and are held four times a year in our Stirling office. As well as The Adult Network, there is a Glasgow Adult group that meet monthly at Strathclyde University.  Your local branch may also hold regular meetings, as well as other activities and events.

These events are designed to:

share ideas and experiences
discuss how to overcome challenges
talk about issues in education and employment
learn from guest speakers

We would like to thank Donnie for sharing his compelling story.

Iconic image captured on canvas

Scottish Contemporary Artist Jonathan Mitchell has donated an original Oil painting of Sir Jackie Stewart racing at the 1969 German Grand Prix in the Matra MS80.

The Painting was commissioned in co-operation with our President Sir Jackie Stewart to raise fund and awareness for Dyslexia Scotland.

Jonathan says ‘ I have had the pleasure of meeting Sir Jackie a couple of times now. My first brief meeting was at the 2012 Grand Prix at Silverstone. It was here that the idea of producing a “racing” painting was hatched’

The painting will be on display at a number of events between now and Dyslexia Awareness Week in November, when it will be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Checkout our Website, Facebook and Twitter pages, details of where you can view the painting will be available shortly.

Make sure you see it, before it’s snapped up.

Sir Jackie Stewart OBE at the Nurburgring, 1969

In addition, a run of limited addition prints signed by Sir Jackie and Jonathan Mitchell are to be produced, you can pre order your print here before their official publication in May.


We are very grateful for the artist’s generous donation. Visit www.jonathan-mitchell.co.uk to find out more about Jonathan Mitchell and view his other work.

Remember,  stay tuned for your opportunity to view this amazing painting.

Life is like a hurdle race. If you fall, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and take the next one at a run

One of the things I have discovered about dyslexia is that it does not go away. When I was really young I used to think if I ignored it, it wouldn’t really matter, and I found that’s not the case. Then I used to think that if I just worked hard enough it wouldn’t matter, and found that’s not the case as well. I used to think that if I just sounded smart enough it wouldn’t matter, and found like the others that’s not the case.

I loved learning, and I still do, I’m a factual sponge if I’m on a topic that interests me, but I hated school. I hated the fact that I could never say on a page what I knew. I hated that fact that in exams I thought I was giving them what they wanted, but I was never right, and I hated the fact that I was never really able to reach my full potential.

When I left education I didn’t really think I would have to deal with my dyslexia again. Unfortunately that has not been the case. Job applications can be a nightmare; a regularly write out the wrong amount on cheques for my daughters school dinners; in many online mediums your arguments are immediately shut down by other people if your spelling or grammar are wrong, the implication being that if you can’t get that right you have not right to have your opinion respected; in one job I managed to not receive pay for a full month because I had written my bank account number down wrong, after checking it three times.

I sometimes find my dyslexia pretty hard to cope with. Normally it’s the challenge of a new situation which brings my dyslexia into focus for me again. I’m currently taking an MA in Creative Writing. At the beginning of my Masters I would sit looking at the set texts understanding every word in them, but having no idea what they all meant when they were put together in sentences. I felt like my brain was a large sandtimer through which the information was falling, but only a grain at a time – it was frustrating to hear classmates elegantly talk and unpack theories, while I was still waiting for the sand to fall. It’s under these new situations, and also under stress, that my coping mechanisms begin to fall apart, and I begin to lose confidence in myself. Suddenly, and still after all these years, my dyslexia again becomes a barriers which appears to define my interactions with the world and those about me. I began to start feeling that there is nothing I can do where my dyslexia will not make it more of a struggle than it is for other people. My confidence ebbs away and negative thinking started to take over.

The Local Authority I grew up in tended to dislike a diagnosis of dyslexia as it meant more money having to be spent. For this reason I got very little help at primary and a secondary school, which although excellent in many ways, wasn’t even willing to recognise the diagnosis, non-recognition being a standard get-out clause. So during my state education I was not helped as I believe I should have been. For my undergrad degree I have no idea what was motivating my tutors, but until I found a wonderful woman in the student support service in the final year, it was again pretty much ignored. I’ve found all these attitudes and situations serve to add more to the emotional element, which can so often be negative, of my dyslexia, and I often really struggle with the tangle of emotions which this brings up.

However it’s not all been complete doom. My Masters is being undertaken at Edinburgh Napier University, and I don’t think I have ever in my life encountered such an enlightened and supportive atmosphere. My tutors are routinely encouraging, and work with me in consultation to help circumvent some of the barriers I face. The student support services are also on hand to help in any way that they can and have gone as far as helping me with techniques to deal with the anxiety which can de such an accompanying factor for anyone who has dyslexia.

Although dyslexia has made parts of my life tough and other parts tougher I’d say than a nuro-typical person, I have also found that in general people and friends are massively supportive. Bad attitude comes through ignorance of what dyslexia is and what disabilities mean in reality, far too many people think disability is something they see, or a fear of having to spend money. I have also managed to have a lot of successes in my life. When I was first (and finally after lots of testing) diagnosed at the age of nine it was expected that I would never get to tertiary education. I recently dug out that old report and it made me cry to read how hopeless and how much of a struggle it was assumed learning would be for me, when it is something I love. But I try instead to take pride in the fact that I not only completed my undergrad but I am also now getting a MA in Creative Writing in one of the best CW courses in the country, where competition is stiff to get it.

Mairi Cover only.inddI also last year published my first book of poetry called This is a Poem with Burning Eye Books, this had been an ambition of mine for a long time, and I would say that although the book itself was written over in total a six month period, in reality it took all of my thirty four years to complete it. Just now I’m currently working on my first novel as part of my MA. I have a publisher looking at a second book of poems which have been illustrated by a talented artist, and I’m currently working on an idea for an anthology.

I’m someone who is naturally ambitious and driven in the work I do. I like to achieve and I bristle when other people try to limit me. These characteristic don’t make dyslexia easy, it would be easy if I was more mild, more happy to stay where I was, and spent less time wanting to push further. But this is me for better or worse, and to get the achievements I have achieved I had to develop characteristics to take me there. I’m quite determined, one person close to me has called me bloody-minded and some people I work with say I am stubborn, but stubborn refusal to accept the limits others want to put on me has got me where I am, and made sure I got to tertiary education, twice, and got me published.

What also helped get me there is tenacity. Imagine your life like a hurdles race, where you have to leap again and again and again. The dyslexic people in the lane have somehow landed with more hurdles, so they have more opportunities to fall and are more likely to lag behind. The two most important things you need to know to get to the ribbon at the end is that the only person who’s performance matters is your own, take your eyes off how others are doing, and the ability to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and take the next hurdle at a run.

Failing that when I get really down, and feel dispirited I go to bed and read my book, which makes me unbelievably happy, because there is nothing anyone can do or say that stops that being one of my achievements and no one can ever take that away.


Mairi Campbell-Jack’s book This is a Poem is available from the Burning Eye website, and she can be followed on Twitter @lumpinthethroat

Young Scot Award for our Young Person’s Ambassador?

It is official and we are excited to announce that Ellie has been nominated as a finalist in the Young Scot Awards 2013.


Ellie was nominated for the Health category and will be up against two other finalists for the award. We nominated Ellie for this prestigious honour for the work she has done to raise awareness of Dyslexia and Dyslexia Scotland through her Blue Ribbon Campaign (read Ellie’s Story here) and for her continued efforts and enthusiasm.

Cathy Magee CEO of Dyslexia Scotland says “we are very proud of Ellie and the work that she has done, we wanted to show our gratitude by nominating her for this award and asking her to be our first Young person’s Ambassador. She is a real inspiration and we appreciate all she has done and continues to do to raise awareness about Dyslexia and Dyslexia Scotland.”

Ellie will attend a start studded event on the 19th April,  A VIP Gala dinner will take place at the Crowne Plaza Hotel and the awards will be announced at 8.30pm at the SECC Clyde Auditorium.  For the first time, this year, highlights of the awards will be broadcast on STV – It will be shown at 10.15pm on the 21st April.

Good Luck Ellie

Great news for dyslexic adults and children

Last month three judges of the Upper Tribunal ruled that a mother had the right to claim Disability Living Allowance (DLA) on behalf of her ten year old son because he is dyslexic. This is a landmark decision and gives clear guidance of the evidence needed for future applications from dyslexic people to receive DLA. The decision states that dyslexia is a condition which entitles people to DLA provided that the statutory tests for either the care or mobility components of the DLA are met.

In previous cases, there have been contrary decisions by single judges in the Upper Tribunal. In 2006 and 2010 Judge May said that dyslexia was an educational disability and therefore the responsibility of the education system and not of the DLA. Whereas, Judge Japp, also in 2006, decided that dyslexia was indeed a disability that qualified for the DLA. However, now three judges of the Upper Tribunal have ruled that dyslexia is a “bodily function” that brings the condition into the sphere of the DLA.

For a dyslexic person to claim DLA, the statutory requirements have to be met in relation to care or mobility which can be assessed at different levels. In relation to the care component, the extra attention which is “reasonably required” by a dyslexic person at home and even at school must be taken into account. In relation to the mobility component, the ability of the dyslexic person to read signs, appreciate risks and dangers, have a sense of direction and an ability to return to a given place should all be considered.

The level of the allowance for the mother and her ten year old boy is still to be decided following an assessment of the boy’s needs. DLA will continue for children under the age of 16 but for those aged 16 to 64 it will change in April to Personal Independence Payment.

Sundance Kid’s film about dyslexia

We know that dyslexia affects people all over the world but we were intrigued last year when we were approached by American film maker James Redford – yes, that Redford family – about a film he had made about dyslexia.

James, Robert Redford’s son, and his wife had struggled to support their dyslexic son Dylan for years and the film explores the family’s experiences over the years.

It also features a host of other dyslexic people from all walks of life including people like Sir Richard Branson and leading financier Charles Shwab. These public figures might be incredibly successful now, but they talk candidly about how they struggled earlier on in life and how they used their strengths to get where they are today.

Initially it was decided that we would show the film during Dyslexia Awareness Week, but we did wonder – would a film like this work in the UK? The answer was a resounding YES and following lots of interest we have arranged some further screenings in Scotland starting in Dumfries next week. You will also get a chance to see it if you live near Stirling, Stornoway or Glasgow so check out the Events page of our website to find out more.

See the trailer below

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