Without the incredible support from our volunteers, the team at Minstead Trust and Furzey Gardens would not be able to keep extending the level of support provided to adults with learning disabilities throughout the South. We chat with John Bell, volunteer, to discuss his personal reasons for expanding his support of Minstead Trust.

“Living in Marchwood and meeting up with Bev Spanswick, I quickly became aware of the work that Minstead Trust delivers. As a result, I have been associated with the Trust as a volunteer for the past four years. Once a week at Minstead Lodge, I work with up to ten students at a time, helping to provide fun musical activities for them including percussion lessons. These practice sessions are often tailored to help students prepare for public performances to showcase what they have learnt. From time to time, I also arrange for music groups to support Minstead Trust initiatives.

“I also work as a volunteer with the elderly in Southampton which has been an eye-opening experience, highlighting the fact that everybody has a unique and fascinating story to tell. More often than not, these stories don’t reach the light of day because of the subjects’ lack of status in the community. They don’t have a platform from which to share them. I was motivated to start writing a book, therefore, as a claim for the importance of every person – a plea for equality if you like.

“The very same motivation and drive for equality was what drove me to get further involved with Minstead Trust. Its students have just as much right to benefit from the connections I have made and the musical skills I have developed as the highly gifted students and musicians I also come into contact with.

“Over the period of three years, I developed the concept for a fictional novel whilst becoming the main carer for my wife who sadly endured cancer. Fundamentally the book centres around the story of one man, but is also an exploration of the different ways in which we all cope with transience in mortality. The creative process became a coping mechanism, enabling me to come to terms with my wife’s slow demise. Sadly, she passed in July 2017 before the book was published. It made sense to me that donating my proceeds of the book to Minstead Trust was a fitting tribute as part of her enduring legacy. It was also a way of demonstrating my conviction and contribution towards the ongoing conversation of equal opportunities in our community.

“The story line revolves around the life of my grandfather, an East Midlands coal miner who volunteered to serve in WW1, resulting in him being awarded the Military Medal for Bravery in the Field. The novel is a work of fiction, with all the main characters’ origins based in real life. It combines family anecdotes with archive reference material on pre-war pit life, war diaries from my grandfather’s regiment and additional perspectives of WW1 military history.

“It’s an honour the book has been nominated for the James Tait Black Award for Fiction and Biography and also the Royal Society for Literature’s Christopher Bland Award for elderly, first-time authors! It’s my hope the nominations draw further attention not only to the book and its story, but also to Minstead Trust. With every book sold, the more financial support I can offer the charity, enabling the expansion of services across the South to help more adults with learning disabilities.”

Epitaph on a Beech TreeTo purchase John Bell’s “Epitaph on a Beech Tree – A Tale of the Great War”, with John’s 25% of the proceeds going to support Minstead Trust, please click here