Matthew Markham admits that being on the autistic spectrum means he can find coping with strangers and situations outside of his normal routine quite difficult to manage.
But that has not stopped the 19-year-old from becoming a valued and experienced member of the volunteer team at the St Luke’s Hospice Gleadless shop.
“It’s a supportive environment, it helps me to meet people and it helps me build my confidence,” he says as he looks forward to the first of his week’s volunteering sessions.
Matthew first volunteered at the Gleadless shop in November 2018 as part of a college work placement.
“When I first started I was in the back, sorting out clothes, putting them on hangars, hanging them up,” he says.
Now, though, he regularly meets visitors who are dropping off donations and he can also be seen in the shop, greeting customers, introducing them to Covid protocols and making sure there are not too many people looking around at one time.
“In the past I was really shy and I didn’t really talk much but now I enjoy talking to the customers,” he says. “Since my confidence has grown I’ve become more confident and I enjoy all the things I do while I am here.
“Everybody has been amazing to me and I enjoy being with such a good group of people.
“Because I am autistic it means I can get really anxious so it was really challenging for me at the beginning but as the months went on it wasn’t so scary for me.”
Matthew was just beginning to feel really at home in the retail environment, though, when all the St Luke’s were closed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
But he was delighted when St Luke’s got in touch to tell him that the shops were re-opening and there was a place for him again on the Gleadless volunteer team.
“Being here helps me to know what to expect down the line though I’m not sure what the future holds,” Matthew says. “If you’re looking for great work experience, though, this is probably the best place to get it.
“You meet some nice people, you do different things and you get a taste of what the real world is like.”