Volunteers will be raising money at tomorrow’s Snowman Rally for the Haven Appeal which aims to develop a specialist centre for children and young adults with multiple and complex needs.
As an enthusiastic campaigner for people with learning disabilities, John Gallon offers a personal and thought-provoking insight into the everyday challenges they face.
The 30-year-old, of Nairn, has mild learning difficulties and is acutely aware of the barriers often preventing people such as himself from leading as independent a life as possible.
He recalls, for example, doing a work placement in the Inverness store of a national retail company.
"All I wanted to do was stack shelves and interact with people," he said. "Instead, they put me in the store room upstairs. They let me down. Basically they were hiding my disability."
He remains undeterred by the experience, however, and is determined to champion the cause of people with learning difficulties.
He is currently trying to raise funds and awareness for the £4 million Haven Appeal to develop Scotland’s first integrated centre for children and young adults with multiple and complex needs at a site in Inverness.
The proposed Haven Centre will provide will provide facilities for people up to the age of 30. As well as respite care, it will include a community café, play centres, garden, meeting rooms and offices.
The appeal has been launched by the Elsie Normington Foundation of which Mr Gallon is a board member having joined as a representative for people with learning disabilities.
"It is so important because there are not many places in the the Highlands where young people with any disability can go," Mr Gallon said. "It will be absolutely amazing. There is such a lack of facilities here. There is a lack of funding."
Although it is an ambitious vision, Mr Gallon believes the proposed centre is achievable.
"There has been a lot of feedback from people about the Haven project saying it is such a brilliant idea," he said. "The money can be raised as long as the public get involved."
He will be helping with fundraising at the Snowman Rally this weekend and would also like to organise a sponsored walk in the summer.
He maintains the centre will make a massive difference to hundreds of people across the Highlands and further afield.
As a youngster growing up in Newcastle, he attended a special needs school but after leaving he felt there was a gap in provision for adults. He amd his mother subsequently moved to the Highlands for a better lifestyle.
"It is a safe environment for me up here," he explaind. "I get the independence I want. If I was still in Newcastle, I would never have got it there as it is such a busy place."
With support from Key Housing, he now lives independently in his own flat in Tradespark, Nairn.
He receives help to do shopping, for example, but he is also endeavouring to take on more household tasks for himself.
He was previously a student at Cantraybridge College near Croy, a rural skills college for adults with learning disabilities and additional support needs. He now works at the college as a self-directed support peer adviser although it is not full-time or permanent.
He also has an unpaid placement supporting older adults with learning disabilities at a residential home in Inverness two days a week.
Despite the negative experience of a work placement at the Inverness store, there have been other rewarding and valuable placements.
He recalled being at Cobbs Cafe in Highland Industrial Supplies in the Longman Estate. "I was putting stuff on the tables," he said. "I was giving things to customers, I was in the kitchen."
His biggest wish is one day to get a paid job.
"It is hard to get a paid job because sometimes people are not interested," he said. "It really makes me mad. We are normal at the end of the day and we can achieve anything. People look at what we cannot do rather than what we can do."
He also hopes that people will become more aware and understanding of people with learning difficulties.
"Sometimes, I get hassle from other people," he said. "They don’t understand our disability and that is what society needs to understand."
Despite the sometimes negative responses, he remains positive and regards himself as "quite an active and social person".
"My passion is to work with people with disabilities," he said. "I have done lots of fundraising for people with disabiities.
"It is about standing up for people with disabilities and giving them a voice. I am a representative for any adults with learning disabilities."
Tomorrow’s annual Snowman Rally has given its support to the Haven Appeal.
Organised by the Highland Car Club, the high-profile motorsport event takes place around the Inverness area and draws in thousands of spectators.
About 100 drivers from all over Scotland as well as England, Wales and Ireland will be testing their motoring skills over tomorrow’s 200-mile course of which 43 will be in forests around the Inverness area. The route will take in Daviot, the Black Isle, Kiltarlity and Contin.
All competitors have been given the option of making a donation to the appeal and there will also be chances for the public to give money.
There will be a ceremonial start in Inverness High Street between 9am and 10.30am when volunteers on behalf of the Elsie Normington Foundation will be out in force taking advantage of the crowds and they will also set up a stall.
The foundation will also run one of the event car parks at the Meallmore spectator area at Daviot, south of Inverness. There will be a £5 fee per car, with all the money going to the appeal.
For more information on the Haven Appeal go to www.havenappeal.org.uk