Press and campaigns assistant Danielle Mendel joined United Response's fundraising and communications department on Monday. Here, she reflects on a busy 5 days in her new role.

Starting a new job is always somewhat of a rollercoaster ride; mixed feelings of excitement, nerves and anticipation would inevitably drive me through my first few days.

With a Christmas carol concert and the United Nations’ International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) both taking place in the first week, it seems I couldn’t have joined United Response’s press and campaigns team at a busier or more exciting time. On reflection, there was no better way to get stuck in and learn exactly what the charity is all about.

Carols and festive cheer

The London Christmas carol concert took place on Wednesday evening in the beautiful St Peter’s Church in Eaton Square and the spectacular Seaford College Choir put everyone in the festive spirit.

With the programme in easy read and the entire service translated into sign language, it was a truly unique event. Everyone was given an opportunity to learn a little sign language alongside the United Response Ipswich Deaf Services choir and Swanbank Musical Theatre. It was a whole-heartedly inclusive event, encompassing everything United Response aims to achieve – a society where everyone has equal access to the same rights and opportunities.

United Response Ipswich Deaf Services choir and Swanbank Musical Theatre

Ipswich Deaf Services Choir and Swanbank Music sign along to Deck the Halls

As well as a festive celebration, the concert was an opportunity to recognise the remarkable work United Response has done throughout the year. In particular, it highlighted the achievements of David Allkins, who has Asperger’s syndrome; Kayleigh Amoah, who has complex needs; and transitions service manager Adam Sutherland.

The charity’s President Martyn Lewis CBE interviewed David about his work throughout the year as United Response’s very own Political Correspondent (now News Correspondent). As David talked about his achievements, I was struck by his ability to articulate the challenges facing people with disabilities, which politicians themselves often struggle to explain.

Kayleigh and Adam talked passionately about their award-winning social enterprise project, Garden Gnomes based in Richmond.  They explained how the project had started following support from the Small Sparks grant, designed to enable people with disabilities to engage with their communities.

Support worker Adam and Kayleigh, who has complex needs, are interviewed by Martyn Lewis MBE

Kayleigh, who has complex needs, and service manager Adam are interviewed by Martyn Lewis MBE

No one could fail to be moved by the messages of David, Kayleigh and Adam, or by the festive spirit of the event, and we were delighted to receive almost £1,500 in donations towards our Christmas Appeal.

Getting political

A highlight of my week was joining David Allkins and campaigns and public affairs manager John JC Cooper on their visit to Parliament to report on an event in recognition of yesterday's IDPD. This year’s theme was ‘inclusion for all’ – an issue that David is particularly passionate about.

We were fortunate enough to be able to secure an interview with the Shadow Minister for Disabled People, Debbie Abrahams MP. David questioned the Shadow Minister on the biggest challenges facing people with learning disabilities and mental health needs, and how Labour aims to achieve a more inclusive society for all.

I watched News Correspondent David Allkins discuss Labour disability policy with Debbie Abrahams

I watched News Correspondent David Allkins discuss Labour disability policy with Debbie Abrahams

We then attended the Minister’s Parliamentary IDPD event, where she and the Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Owen Smith MP, discussed the major issues facing disabled people in today’s society, along with a panel of experts from various organisations. Topics ranged from the impact of recent Government cuts to wider issues concerning social attitudes towards disabled people and their portrayal in the media.

I was particularly fascinated to hear from Models of Diversity – an organisation campaigning against disability discrimination in the modelling industry. The debate opened my eyes to issues that are too rarely discussed.

What next?

It is clear that there is much to do if we are going to tackle the challenges facing people with disabilities and mental health needs, and ensure that, when it comes to inclusivity, no one is left behind. It is also clear that there are a lot of passionate and ambitious people willing to do what it takes to make that happen.

I’m happy to be working for an organisation that puts the needs of disabled people at the heart of what it does, and looking forward to the new opportunities and challenges 2016 will bring.  

Catch up with David’s latest reports on his News Correspondent channel on YouTube.

Danielle Mendel, press and campaigns assistant.