Never underestimate people with disability. Wesley (Wes) Greer talks to Michael McEwan of Able Radio about his life from school through the highs and lows of breaking into performing arts. Currently Wes is working in a voluntary post at Common Knowledge UK (CKUK). He is also a member of East Kilbride Rep Theatre where he recently played the dormouse in their pantomime adaptation of Alice In Wonderland. This was particularly intriguing as Wes is 6ft 5 inches tall! Wes has steadfastly refused to let his learning disability limit his ambitions and he explains how his self confidence increased through attending college and being a Host City Volunteer at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014. Through CKUK he was introduced to Sunny G 103 community radio where he now hosts his own show. His message is to the world is 'never underestimate people with disability' - and to people with a disability 'believe you can achieve what you want'.
My Life My Way – Wes Greer
MM – Michael McEwan
WG – Wes Greer
M Wes Greer talks to Michael McEwan about his life, from school through the highs and lows of breaking into the performing arts, currently Wes is working in a voluntary post at Common Knowledge UK, he is also a member of East Kilbride Rec Theatre where he recently played the dormouse in their pantomime adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. Wes has steadfastly refused to let his learning disability limit his ambitions and he explains how his self-confidence increased through attending college and being a host city volunteer at the Common Wealth Games in Glasgow. Through CKUK he was introduced to Sunny G 103, community radio, where he now hosts his own show. His message to the world is, never underestimate people with a disability, and to people with a disability, believe you can achieve what you want.
MM Wes, thanks for joining us. The first question I would like to ask you is, what was it like when you went to school, did you get any support at school?
WG Well when I went to secondary school it was a special educational needs school and I did receive support. The support that I received was quite minimal for my needs, but I did receive support from the staff and, you know, they were so supportive and they wanted me to, you know, to go out and get involved in college and, you know, getting into, sort of like, work really, and they wanted me to become more independent. So, I did receive support from teachers at school, really, so it was great, you know, just to go to a school where you felt comfortable and you were getting the support, so, and more so at the fact that I did come on leaps and bounds and I gained a l of skills. Looking back on it now, I feel that I could have gone to a mainstream school but it was a great school, nonetheless.
MM Let me go back to that point because when you came in today we were talking about the interview one of the points that was, and it keeps coming up on these series that I do is, you wanted to go to a mainstream school but you didn't have that, em, did you have that option or did people ask you, "Wes what school do you want to go to?", or did they say, "Wes you are going to a special needs school"?
WG There were a few schools that did pop up and it wasn't like an option it was just something like, oh I think that school's suitable for you, you know, but it was my choice at the end of the day and my mum had gone up to the school to view it and she was really pleased with the school and, you know, the head teacher was really nice. So, that's how we made the decisions that I would be better off at that school because it was suitable for my needs at the time.
MM We will come on to speak about your disability in a wee bit Wes, but I wanted to finish off this question by asking, so you went to a special needs school, so did you feel as though you were held back in any way or...?
WG I didn't feel that I was held back in any way, I felt that I was more like a pupil support assistant at the school because a lot of the kids that attended that school at severe forms of disability, like cerebral palsy, downs syndrome, so I felt more like a responsible helper and I felt that I was, kind of, like the big brother. I had to realise that I was a pupil as well as them, so it wasn't like, Wesley is like a staff member, like a support assistant, but I actually felt like that, you know, I did feel like that.
MM When you left school you went on to college, tell us a bit about that.
WG This also happened during school, we had links with colleges, we had links with a college in the east of Glasgow and I did some skills up there, like independent living skills, we did cooking, we did all that kind of stuff. It was a really good course to get involved in. That was 2003 to 2004, and then I signed up for a course, it involved me travelling to college myself so it wasn't like going to school and then going to college with the other students, it was me travelling to college myself, so, which was even better because I preferred that. I did a course at John Wheatley college for a year, I think it was about a year, and it was working with others. I did an access course there and I got to meet people on the course and they were so friendly and, you know, it was a great course.
MM When you were saying about, you went to college by yourself, on a bus, did you feel confident at doing that?
WG I did, I felt really confident and the first time that I started travelling on a bus myself was even before going to college, I started making shorter journeys to my aunts, you know, she only stayed about a mile, you know, just along from where I stay and I thought, I want to start with a shorter journey and build up my confidence. We had this programme at school, called independent travel, which encouraged people to learn to travel themselves, by bus, to places of leisure, like the shops, shopping centres, and not just that but, to be able to budget things at the shops. So, it was like going in and buying your groceries, getting the bus back, you know, so that built up my confidence and that got me prepared for college, you know, getting up and getting organised. Sometimes organisation is my weakness really, but I felt really confident, you know, traveling to college myself and meeting up with other people my own age and meeting up with people that didn't really have severe forms of disability, I don't mean that in a bad way, but they didn't have really severe forms of disability, they were more like myself, just on the same level as me. So, it was great just having that, em, that bit of freedom away from school, it was great and I came on leaps and bounds.
MM And you went to college to do a course, tell us a bit about that.
WG Yeh, well the course that I did was, I did a lot of research on local support services in the community, we worked together as part of a team and the lecturers were so supportive and they were really nice people and we got a lot of positive feedback at the end of the day, after we did our work. Then I did a sound course at college as well, which was quite good.
MM So how many years were you at college for?
WG I was at college for, as I said this was still during school I was at college for about a year and then I did another course in 2009. At Anniesland college, I did a driving theory test course and, again, the lecturer was, she really supported me and she encouraged me to do the theory test more and, you know, focus on the theory test and she was so supportive and it gave me the incentive to go back in, you know, for my driving, because I did take some driving lessons beforehand and, again, I came on leaps and bounds.
MM Did you mix with the students, I mean how were the students towards you, were they friendly towards you?
WG The students were really, they were really nice students. I wouldn't say that they were, you know, like long term friends, but I would say that they were really nice people, you know, to get to know on the course, because that's what it's all about, it's going to a course that you feel comfortable with and meeting up with people and it's a bonus if you do meet a friend. The courses have really given me the encouragement to be able to do more things.
MM I want to speak about an organisation based in Glasgow and I think it's open to the whole of Scotland, I'm sure you will let me know if I'm wrong there Wes, but an organisation called CKUK?
WG Yeh, I first heard about CKUK back in 2007 and this was through a local area co-ordinator. She got in touch with one of the ladies at CKUK, one of the staff I should say, and then she came up to my employment project, Momentum Services, and she actually phoned me and she told me about this project, CK Respect. CK respect was an anti-bullying steering project, for people with disabilities to go along and, you know, share their experiences of being bullied and that's how I started to get involved with CKUK, was attending their CK Respect steering group meetings and I have done a lot of things with Common Knowledge, I've done a project called CK Pose. CK Pose is an agitprop theatre group for people with disabilities. They have been running for 8 years now, we have done a lot of shows, we have done a few shows, I should say, we've also done photo stories, we've done photoshoots. But people with learning disabilities have had a chance to model, and it's something that they don't always get the chance to do but, you know, you see other models on the TV, they get the chance to be in newspapers, articles, magazines, programmes, you name it, but this is a proper agitprop theatre group for people with disabilities who want act, who want to sing, who want to dance, who want to models, who want to just be like any other person really, and want to show off their talents, and that's what they do, you know what I mean? It's a great project, and aside from that I've done other things with CKUK, I've done a project called CK Connect, in 2012, which was a, it's a 5-year run project. I was involved with that for about 2 years, I did my Platinum Youth Achievement Award, I successfully achieved that and I got a lot of support from the rest of the staff at CKUK, they were so supportive and they encouraged me to complete the award and, you know, get it, and I got the award, and I also got the outstanding achievement award at CKUK's 2013 award ceremony in Glasgow, which was a great ceremony. CKUK have been absolutely amazing and I really mean it, from the bottom of my heart, they have given me the opportunity to be the man that I am today, you know, getting out and meeting people. So, I really, really appreciate all the help and support that they have given me.
MM We will go back to speak about you doing some acting work in a minute, because I know recently you've been in a pantomime, we will speak about that in a minute, but let's go back to 2014 because, as well as being on your journey, you were a volunteer at the Glasgow 2014 Common wealth Games.
WG Yeh, em, it was an exciting opportunity. I heard about the Host City Volunteer project and this was for the Glasgow 2014 games, and I thought it would be a really good opportunity and, again, this was through CKUK, and I discussed with one of the staff members and we emailed the Host City Volunteer Team and they got back to us and I went for the interview and did all the paperwork stuff and was ready to go. For the 11 days of the games I did about 6 or 7 shifts and, basically, what I did was I helped to assist people, like, round the city. Part of the Host City Volunteer role was to give information to people who were coming into the city, who needed to get to the games. So, we were on hand at various locations in the City, George Square, queen Street, Argyle Street, and I was paired up with another person and, again, it's that thing about meeting people, but it's not just about meeting people. This was a, this was a massive, massive opportunity because Glasgow never gets, really get the chance to host the Common Wealth Games and we had people coming in from as far afield as Canada, the United States, New Zealand. We had people coming in from across the Common Wealth, who were coming to our city, people who you would never, ever see again in your life, you know, and they were so nice, so friendly, and I tell you something, it was the best time of my life, really, it was the best time of my life. Although there has been doubts about the Common Wealth Games, that's another story, 2014, host city volunteering for the games was just, it just opened my eyes, and I got the chance to apply for a ticket to go to the opening ceremony for the games and it just, it just really opened my eyes. To think that this is my city, my home city, I'm representing my city, you know, so it was just a great feeling to be in amongst the crowd, and even getting the chance to go along to the team Scotland parade. Quite a few famous people were there, eh, I was actually caught on camera, as they say, em, for the news that was going out at 6 o'clock. It was just a great thing to be a part of and if I could do it again I would definitely do it again.
MM I remember going into Glasgow during the 2 weeks of the Commonwealth Games and you couldn't get in anywhere, we went for a bit of dinner and we couldn't get in anywhere, but I went to the opening ceremony on a Monday night, the rehearsal, that was quite fun as well and it was a good experience, but I don't think Glasgow will see anything like that again. Maybe it will. Let's speak about your radio experience, because over the past, a year would you say? You have been involved in Sunny G, tell us more.
WG Well, em, in February 2014 I had applied, in fact I found out about Sunny Govan radio, and I knew about it for years, you know, a couple of years, but I didn't really do anything about it, but I thought, now is the time to actually start looking beyond CKUK because I have done a lot of work with CKUK, done a lot of voluntary work, you know, things like that. The Sunny Govan radio thing had come up last year and I decided that, I thought this would be an opportunity for me to, you know, further develop my skills, because I have always been interested in media and arts and current affairs since I was a child, so I thought it would be better to put these skills to use, and I contacted Sunny Govan Radio and, em, I spoke to one of the guys at Sunny Govan and he got me over for an interview, and then I was really interested, and I got a chance to sit in on one of the live shows that they were doing, so it was great to be a part of that, and within a week or 2 I had gone back and they showed me how to present my own show, I do a show ever Wednesday afternoon, 1pm to 2pm. Looking at a year down the line, it's nearly a year coming up now, I feel that I've learned, you know, quite a few skills. There is still a lot to be learned but the team there have been absolutely fantastic and, em, it's just great meeting other people, again, that haven't got, I don't mean to be rude, but haven't got learning disabilities. Again, it's just that thing about getting involved with something else and looking for other things in my life, you know, and that's what I continue to do. Hopefully over the next 12 months I'll me looking beyond a lot from CKUK to further opportunities.
MM I want to speak about the pantomimes that you were in this year, you got involved, am I right, in September of last year, with East Kilbride Rec Theatre?
WG Yeh, it was round about September or October. One of the guy from the East Kilbride Rec Theatre came out to Common Knowledge and he spoke to our Director and she said that Wesley is a great candidate, that would be more up his street, and I went into the office one day and I just happened to bump into this chap from the East Kilbride Rec Theatre and he was a nice guy, he told me about the project, the club and what they do and I said, "That would definitely be right for me, you know, it would be good for me to develop my acting skills." He said, "well have a think about it." I went home and I thought about it and I got in touch with them and they emailed me back and within a few weeks I went to the east Kilbride Rec Theatre club and I spoke to one of the ladies who runs the club, you know, she was very nice and she told me about the project. I started to go along on a Tuesday and a Friday for some dress rehearsals and just to, kind of, get a feel of what it's like when I went to see one of their shows and it just, eh, really inspired me further. As I started to get involved, we were kind of flung into the deep end, basically, if you like, you know, we were doing panto over the Christmas period so there had to be rehearsals for the panto plus we had to go to a reading audition, I went to a reading audition at first because at that point I wasn't, I didn't know if I was going to get a part in the panto. I passed the audition and then they gave me the part of the dormouse, bizarrely, in Alice in Wonderland. Now, I'm too tall, although you can't see me, but I am actually 6ft 5, now can you imagine a guy, 6ft 5, right, being a dormouse, that just doesn't go, but it was a lot of fun and it was so funny, just being involved in the production of the pantomime and even the rehearsals were really good as well and, again, I keep going back to that thing about meeting other people and, you know, having a good time and getting out there and making the most of my life because that's what my family want, you know, my sister wants that, my mum would want that, you know what I mean, so that's what I hope to do over the next 12 months or so.
MM I'm going to move on to the last question now, Wes, to speak about your disability. What would you say to people listening to this, whether it's individuals or people of organisations, what would you say to people about, oh Wes I've got a disability but it doesn't hold me back, what would your reaction be?
WG Just because you've got a learning disability doesn't mean to say, oh my life is down, you know, I'm depressed. We all get depressed but just because you've got a learning disability, doesn't mean to say that you can't do the thing, you know, like acting and that, things that other people can do like going out and getting into, like, volunteering. You can do it, you know what I mean, there is no such thing as, I can't do, and what I don't like is when people, and I have seen it happen before and I've had it done to me a few times, people often underestimate people with disabilities. They think that, it's not that they think they can't do it, it's the thing that they think that they can do it but they need help with, you know what I mean, I don't like people who say, "oh you can't do this, you can't do that." If you've got a learning disability you can do anything if you put your mind to it. There are people with learning disabilities that can do things, that can do a lot more things than ordinary people maybe find difficult to do or struggle to do, you know what I mean, so if you want to get into acting, if you want to get into presenting, or if you want to get into building or architecture or anything out there, you can do it. Don't say, "oh I've got a disability, I can't do this." It's not true. You can go out there and you can do it. Get involved with local charities, like CKUK, get involved with other organisations, community projects, you name it, you can do it.
MM Ok thanks Wes for taking the time out to speak to us and good luck.
WG Thank you very much Michael.