So, as I sit here listening to the CODA Camp 2016 playlist and trying to put paper to pen (well, fingers to keyboard) I don’t know where to begin. Perhaps the beginning would be a great place to start…
Five years ago, I was asked to interpret a regular booking in a university, which I accepted. I wondered who the co-worker would be, if I would like that person, if would I want to work with them each week for a whole academic year? The minute I met Marie Dimond I knew we would make a great team. Each week our friendship grew and grew. Banana jokes became more and more often (don’t ask!) and we soon began the conversation ‘how did you get into interpreting then?’ We both knew we were CODAs. Before then, I hadn’t really strongly identified as a CODA. I was just me.
I sit here now and wonder how I ended up on the CODA UK and Ireland Board and, for the life of me, I have no idea! I recall being asked if I would like to go to a CODA conference in Stoke-on-Trent, which I went to with my mum and my brother in April 2012. It was there that I met the wonderful Vicki Wan Slattery and Sharon Dimond, and more great friendships began. I remember being in the Deaf Club in Stoke-on-Trent listening to speakers, looking around looking at other CODAs, other people like me, of all different ages, cultures, backgrounds and from all around the UK.
From here, I got more involved with Marie, Sharon and Vicki and Catherine White (who I was yet to meet) and we began to talk about the future of CODA UK & Ireland. There were many meetings, discussions and ideas about how we could take CODA from its HMFD days of Linda Linnett and John Ryan towards strengthening the CODA community in both the UK and Ireland. After a while, we decided the best route would be to register CODA UK & Ireland as an official entity, which we were all so proud to have done, especially when the Registration Certificate arrived in the post with our official Company Number. I can still tell you the date today: 7th November 2012! A milestone in the CODA community in the UK and in Ireland!
Not long after the conference in Stoke-on-Trent, a CODA retreat to Ireland was organised, and off I went to a country I had never been to before with people that I didn’t know that well. I arrived not knowing anybody and left feeling like I had gained a whole new family. If you have yet to experience a CODA event, you may think it sounds cheesy or over-the-top. I know the feeling, but I’ll come to that later. We shared stories and experiences, we laughed, we cried, we shared one culture and we had instant connections. I left Ireland that weekend feeling full, happy and knowing there was a CODA community in the UK & Ireland!
It wasn’t long after that the Arboretum Community Project in Derby approached CODA UK & Ireland to run workshops for CODAs aged 7-17. These were monthly workshops that saw me drive two hours each way to Derby and back to entertain these young people. It really was a privilege to see them grow in confidence and develop from children into young people on their own CODA journey. In the four years I’ve been part of CODA UK & Ireland I’ve been so lucky to see these workshops develop and to have been established in Stoke-on-Trent, Sandwell and Manchester, as well as continuing in Derby. We also surveyed so many parents who expressed a need and desire to have workshops in their local areas. I would love to see this happen one day, but given the man power that is needed, I urge anyone who is thinking about volunteering, or even a little bit curious, to get in touch with the Board and offer your services so that other CODAs across the UK & Ireland can get what these children and young people have!
Soon after, a bubbly, energetic, life-loving Amy Claridge submitted a successful application to join the Board of Directors. Amy went on to become our KODA (now CODA, as voted by the kids) champion! Amy had worked at Mid West Camp in the USA and had caught the ‘camp bug’. She insisted we set up a CODA UK & Ireland Camp – this dream was brought to fruition in August 2013, where 5 staff and 23 kids joined us for a few days in Blackwell Adventure Centre, Bromsgrove. Since then, I have been so thrilled to have been involved in organising 3 more camps, the most recent having just finished! I wish I had something like this growing up!
In 2012, Marie mentioned the idea to the Board of submitting a bid to host the 2015 CODA International Conference here in the UK. A few of us thought that this was too early and too much of a challenge, but Marie (being Marie) managed to persuade us and we embarked on the challenge of sourcing a venue, negotiating contracts and submitting a Bid to CODA International in 2013. In order to represent CODA UK & Ireland, Marie and I fundraised over £4,000 to attend CODA NOLA conference in New Orleans. I’ll never sit in a bath of Baked Beans ever again! On this trip, my first to the USA, I was lucky enough to join Marie and visit Camp Mark 7 in Old Forge, NY, one of the biggest CODA Camps in the US. It was here that Marie and I learned so many tips and ideas to bring back to the UK for our very first CODA camp. I’d like to extend a special thank you to Zef Walker, Jenn Legg and all the CM7 staff for making us feel so welcome. From there, we went on to the conference in New Orleans where we were absolutely ecstatic to find that we had been successful and 2015 would see us host an international conference! I know I have already, but I want to take this opportunity to thank Marie Dimond, Sharon Dimond, Vicki Wan Slattery, Amy Claridge, Catherine White, Joanna Wanmer, John Ryan and Kate Boddy for their amazing work and efforts in organising what was an amazing conference: 170 CODAs from 15 countries here in the UK, another milestone and a memory that I will cherish forever and a day!
In 2013, CODA UK & Ireland hit another milestone by receiving over £10,000 of funding from The Big Lottery, following a group effort from the entire Board, including Catherine White, who I finally got to meet and I still cherish all her support to this day. This money allowed the Directors to travel around England and host various stalls, presentations and meetings to raise awareness about CODAs and the organisation. This saw our membership base sore to numbers we never expected!
In 2014, CODA UK & Ireland hosted the first ‘professional’ conference in London after Deaf Day. Now, I use the word ‘professional’, as in my opinion it was around this time that perceptions of CODA UK & Ireland began to change. We are no longer just an organisation that helps people get together and cry about having Deaf parents: we are now an organisation in our own right, here to support, advise and guide the hearing children of Deaf parents. This conference included keynote speakers, breakout sessions and a panel discussion. The conference was attended by over 90 people from the UK & Ireland and is another memory I will always hold close to my heart. However, it was also a bittersweet event, as it was also the time Catherine White stepped down from the Board of Directors to focus on herself (makes a change!) It’s only now that I realise how hard that must have been for you Catherine, given that you brought the term over from Finland in 1987!
Also in 2014, I was nominated to stand in an election to represent Region 6 for CODA International. Region 6 covers the whole of the Northern Hemisphere, excluding the USA. It was a great privilege and pleasure to be elected on to the Board at the 2014 International Conference in Arizona. It was also here that I got the ceremonial CODA flag handed over to me to bring back to the UK ready for CODALAND 2015.
Before I go on to talk about CODALAND 2015, earlier that year someone who had devoted so much time volunteering for CODA UK & Ireland at its monthly workshops submitted an application to join the Board of Directors. That person was Annika Nisbett, whom I would never have met if it wasn’t for CODA UK and Ireland. I’ve never known someone with such passion and desire, and yet still able to fall over their own feet! Annika got stuck in with board duties and has been a great part of my four years!
The 16-19th July 2015 saw 170 CODAs descend on Wokefield Park, Reading, for the 30th CODA International Conference. I can’t begin to find the words to explain how this felt. The conference was sandwiched between Catherine White, our keynote (or ‘notekey’) speaker, talking about how CODA first became established in the UK, and Annika Nisbett, Joanna Wanmer and Amy Claridge closing the conference by talking about the future of the organisation. It was something really special and something I will never forget. This conference turned out to be the spark of CODA culture being reignited in the UK & Ireland. So many new faces, old faces, nervous people, inquisitive people all getting together and having that one bond in common: our deaf parents.
Since conference last year, my life personally has got busier and busier. I stopped interpreting and went back to Subway with my partner. We have developed a business together and I’m excited to see what the future holds. Our house went up for sale and I am currently mid-move. I was elected Secretary for CODA International in 2015 and I look forward to developing ‘CODA’ across Europe and the Northern Hemisphere. Because of all this, I decided to make the very tough decision to notify the board of my resignation. In March 2016, I sent the email I never thought I would send, but the love and appreciation that I received back could not have been expected. The understanding that my fellow board members gave made the decision feel right. The time was just right for me to move on. I wanted to be involved with CODA Camp 2016 so my formal standing down was yesterday, 8th August 2016, a day after my 26th birthday!
So, CODA Camp 2016… Where to begin? I wrote about the 2013 Camp having 23 kids. This year saw us grow to an amazing 85 children and 21 adult CODA staff. Our camp model has gone through various changes, from a small group of staff entertaining children, cooking and cleaning in 2013, to more staff two deaf volunteers, my Mum and Sean Noone, who cooked for all of us in 2014. In 2015, we had 60 children and this year was the biggest it’s been so far, which is just so humbling to see. You parents clearly trust us with your kids! We even had visitors from CODA Korea come to glean ideas from us in order to set up something similar back in South Korea. How humbling for me to see the full circle, from me being CM7 getting ideas to other countries wanting to visit us and learn from us! I can’t thank Marie and Debbie enough for the effort they put in to organising such an amazing camp this year, but as usual we couldn’t have done it without all of you, so a big shout out to Sharon, Amy, Vicki, Adrian, Matt, Jamie, Abbie, Phil, Janis, Grace, Carl, Julia, Kieran, Ole, Dario, Didrik, Joanna and Michele for taking time out to be at CODA Camp! As a few of our kids wrote:
We are CODAs, we are proud
Put us together and we are loud
Our Parents are Deaf, we like it that way
To communicate we sign all day
In the hearing world we listen to chatter
But to us it really doesn’t matter
We are happy, we are sad
But most of the time, we’re just mad
We are CODAs, we are proud
Put us together and we are loud
Thank you to the Board for my slideshow of pictures, highlighting wonderful memories, some of which I had forgotten even happened. It’s been a quick four years, but as a group we have achieved so much and I know you’ll all do a great job in continuing what we have established.
So, it’s goodbye for now. I’ll still be around – I’ll see you at CODA socials and I’ll be back for CODA camp next year. Until the next time, CODA love and hugs! It’s been a great four years!
Last but not least, I wouldn’t have had all these experiences and wonderful opportunities without my mum and dad. Mum, I love you. Thank you for being deaf. Thank you for being you. Thank you for giving me this whole new world I can be part of.