Mandy, 44, has grown up in The Salvation Army church. In 2003 she was invited to watch the SAFE School of Arts final festival...
SAFE School of Arts is a Christian summer school for people with special needs. The week offers workshops in music, drama, dance, craft and sport and ends with a final festival of worship for friends and family, showcasing what the school has achieved together throughout the week.
“I have scoliosis, curvature of the spine, quite severe, double curve. And I had body braces from the age of two, plaster casts, I was strapped into traction for four years and then I had major surgery when I was 14.
“So when I went to the SAFE final festival I was absolutely amazed at how they were worshipping and doing things even though they were disabled. They were still able to take part. I just thought it was amazing.”
It was during this festival that Mandy met her future husband Tristan, a delegate at SAFE with a mild learning disability. “He just kept smiling at me and I thought ‘ooo.’ After the festival Tristan and I started writing letters and my church encouraged me to attend SAFE as a delegate the following year. That’s when Tristan and I… we just bloomed. We got married on 16th September 2006.
“SAFE has changed my life. Tristan had said that he’d given up hope of finding anyone and I’d given up hope too. My dad never believed that I would ever be able to cope on my own, to be independent and run a home on my own. He never thought I would manage it. He said he was just so proud of me to see me in my little flat with my husband.
“Going along to SAFE was the first time I felt I might actually fit in here. Obviously with a disability you don’t often fit into places. You get stereotyped, you get left out.
“I absolutely love doing the drama at SAFE. You can be something that you’re not. And it’s such a freedom.
“It wasn’t until I came to SAFE that I realised I had so much in common with other people with disabilities. You think you’re on your own but when you go to SAFE you realise you’re not. We’re all facing the same prejudices. Trying to be accepted in the real world is the hardest thing.”
Mandy and husband Tristan are active members of The Salvation Army church family in Bromley.
“Tristan is an absolutely amazing keyboard player. He’s our church pianist. He plays for the congregational singing, for soloists and for the choir. Because of his learning disability he can’t read or write music but he can pick up the piece after hearing it once or twice, and he’ll play it back note for note. They’ll give him CDs and say ‘can you play this?’ He has an amazing ear.
“We’re really thankful that they except us and let us use our gifts.
“Without The Salvation Army I wouldn’t be where I am today. They’ve helped me and encouraged me. They’ve just shown us how special we are. OK we might have disabilities but that doesn’t matter. We’re still special, we’re still important and we’ve still got things that we can give and gifts that we can use. At SAFE we’re given that freedom to do that. It’s wonderful. It’s like a big family: always there.”