Agnes is a workshop facilitator for Rebound Books at L'Arche Brecon. Here she reflects on how the gifts of people with and without learning disabilities are revealed through teamwork and creativity.

'At Rebound Books we take new books and we cut off the spine. We take some pages out and we add some blank pages. We cut the paper ourselves. We print lines or diary pages on it if we like. We bind it up and use the spine to make a bookmark. We go to different festivals and we sell online.

We have people who come to the workshop from the L’Arche house, Glasfyn, and also people who are not part of L’Arche (with learning disabilities). We all work together as a team to create these beautiful journals and diaries.

It is a really nice way of upcycling something that would have otherwise probably gone to a landfill. We are very aware of environmental issues here. We use recycled paper for the new pages and as much as possible we use the paper that has come out of the books as packaging when we send the product in the post to customers. We are always exploring ways that we can recycle the paper.

Society doesn’t always respect people with learning disabilities generally, never mind creatively. For me, I’ve had lots of experience of working with different groups of people but I’ve never worked with people with learning disabilities. It has been a learning curve and I have learnt so much from the people I work with - the people with learning disabilities. Everybody here genuinely participates as part of a team. Some people can’t manage everything, but there is always a job that somebody can do. It’s not a job that is just given for the sake of it. It is an important piece of the whole process of what we do. For example, the old pages that we don’t use we crumple them up to use as packaging. There is somebody here who can do lots of other things, but he particularly enjoys doing this job. He also loves to bind.

Everybody here enjoys what they are doing. Just because we think a person might not be able to do something doesn’t mean that they won’t be able to do it. It is about working together to discover our gifts. We are part of a team. There are things that I am not particularly good at that others are better at. As people we need to feel encouraged to develop our skills - me included. It’s interesting seeing somebody who may not initially want to do something, but they watch for a long time and then they want to try it. It is so good when that happens.

Before coming here I had some theoretical knowledge of people with learning disabilities. As such, working here at the workshop has been a learning experience for me. People who are maginalised in one way or another tend to get lumped together. So, for example, people with learning disabilities. We all have stereotypes in our heads and fixed ideas. I think what we need to be doing is looking at people as individuals and learning what each individual is like, rather than thinking: ‘oh these people [with learning disabilities] are like that.’

It has been great for me to work with people who have got their own amazing personalities and their own way of living life. They get so much enjoyment out of life and they get a lot of satisfaction from having made a really nice product. We’re all involved in the process here. So if we are choosing binding, it is not about me saying: ‘we will use this colour.’ It is about saying: ‘what colour do you think we should use?’ People will often have an opinion and it’s important that their opinions are heard and listened to. Everybody has value.

I didn’t know anything about L’Arche before joining. I was looking to change my job and I saw an advert in the paper. It said they were looking for somebody who was crafty. It didn’t say Rebound Books. I spoke to my partner and said it was L’Arche. He saw the name of the charity and he said ‘I know L’Arche! Jean Vanier – you need to listen to this man. He’s an amazing man.’ My partner is more atheist than anything, but he loves the ethos of that man and his teaching. He has a lot of respect for what he has to say about people, and life, and spirituality.

I think I’ve been changed by being here. I would be quite sad if I hadn’t been changed. I think we should be changing all the time. I think I’ve always been quite an open person and able to accept other people. The way I have been welcomed from the people of L’Arche has really helped me grow and change in my opinions, too. I think I thought L’Arche was a very religious charity and I thought that might be quite difficult for me to be in an organisation where I didn’t believe in everything in the same way. But one of the things that attracted me to L’Arche was their ethos of how people should be treated and how the world should be. That resonated with me. To have that experience of other people welcoming meand being so accepting of my ideas…that has been so nice for me.

I think L’Arche offers a fair alternative to how things are. In places where people are marginalised, they offer an alternative if a society wants to open its mind and look at what is going on. It’s inclusive and it does genuinely value every single person. At first I wasn’t sure if it was just rhetoric. Some organisations say things and it isn’t always followed through. I love the way that it is at L’Arche. I love the way that it works and does what it says it does. Everybody is treated equally. As well as looking at the bigger picture, it also looks at the individual picture in terms of what is important for every individual person. I think that is something that we could all learn from.'

To buy your own up-cycled books, handmade by members of L'Arche Brecon, go to the Rebound Books website.