Jackie Ralph, a trustee of Access to Art (A2A), talks about this charity which makes it possible for disabled and frail older people to enjoy London’s galleries and museums.
Marion Reading is an art lover, and has been all her life. She remembers visiting the National Gallery many years ago, standing as a teenager in front of a Van Gogh in the National Gallery with her sister. Recently she did that again, with a companion this time, not her sister. The ‘companion’ was Jo, a volunteer with the community charity Access2Art. Jo was accompanying Marion on her visit to the National Gallery, pushing her around in a wheelchair. Mary has mobility problems, and without Access2Art the visits to galleries that she once enjoyed would have been unthinkable.
George Wilson also makes the trips to major exhibitions in central London using the services of the charity.
‘I thought I’d never see the Royal Academy again’ he said. Since joining the charity 5 years ago he has enjoyed exhibitions such as Velasquez, Hogarth, Constable and Rodin. Dulwich Picture Gallery has featured on the Access2Art programme, and has hosted a picnic for the volunteers.
The users of the charity all have mobility problems but come from all walks of life, from those with a lifelong interest in art to those keen to experience works of art for the first time. The volunteers, too, have varied backgrounds. Some are students, some retired, while some like to fit in a visit around their work commitments. Volunteers agree that they get so much more out of the exhibitions when they share it with someone ‘and very often the members are art experts, so you can learn a lot’.
Says Jo, who is a student, ‘I’ve found that the members I have assisted particularly enjoy the opportunity to spend time with someone a lot younger than themselves, and reciprocally, I relish the opportunity to spend time with some fascinating older people.’
Another long time volunteer remarked, ‘The nice thing is that there is little pressure – volunteers want to do it and everybody is enjoying themselves’.
The charity, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, began from one borough with just a handful of friends making monthly trips to the central London galleries. As the demand grew and the service expanded, it evolved into a charity and has been run all that time by Jane Turner, the Charity’s Director. Jane, part time herself, has only two regular part time staff based in a tiny office in Dulwich. The vast majority of the practical work is done by volunteers, from the mini-bus drivers who pick up the members from their homes, to the escorts on the buses, to the ‘trip co-ordinators’ who check up on volunteers and members before each trip to ensure it runs smoothly.
‘Over 10 years we have expanded the service into 7 more London boroughs’ recalls Jane. ‘Volunteers can now get additional training to give them a more in-depth understanding of certain disabilities. We have re-branded, and now make the AGM a bigger, more significant event’. All this while organising an average of 12 trips per month from eight London boroughs, including Southwark. This means that a member of Access2Art in any of the 8 boroughs where it operates will have the opportunity to visit a major exhibition almost once a month.
A much loved charity indeed. The last words go to another longstanding member:
‘It has been a real lifeline to enjoy outings that were previously out of the question…as always I can’t wait for our next outing – I so enjoy the exhibitions’.
A2A offer a range of volunteering opportunities. find out more