Heaven and Hell: Alexandra Munn

Alexandra Munn, founder of Suffolk charity Project 21

Alexandra Munn, founder of Suffolk charity Project 21 - Credit: Contributed

Alexandra Munn, founder of Suffolk-based Project 21, provides experiences and opportunities for the Down’s Syndrome community. Her inspirational charity supports young people and their families across Suffolk and Essex, and has even been endorsed by local lad Ed Sheeran. These groups give people with Down’s Syndrome the opportunity to express themselves, grow in confidence, perform on stage and have a voice in society. She shares her East Anglian Heaven and Hell

What’s been the impact of Covid-19 on Project 21 and how have you adapted?
Covid-19 threw a huge spanner in the works for us last year, as I’m sure it did for many people. With the latest lockdown news, 2021 isn’t going to be easy. As our group with Down’s Syndrome were classified as more vulnerable initially, they were isolated for most of the year. I ran free, daily Zoom video chats for all members to log on to and check in with everyone, though this was no substitute for real-life, human contact. As soon as we were allowed to meet again, we did, and luckily have been able to continue dancing together (socially distanced) since August. This has meant the world to the group, and the opportunity to see friends and restore a sense of normality again was very important. Project 21 is and always will be so much more than just a dance group; it’s a community, family and lifeline. We are very grateful to have made it through the pandemic and count our blessings that we will be one of the lucky charities to open their doors again afterwards.

What is your connection to East Anglia?
I grew up in Suffolk, but wasn’t born here. I was 19 when I decided to spread my wings and train to be a flight attendant. I moved away to live near my base, Gatwick Airport. However, the longer I was away the more I missed home. I travelled the world and saw amazing places, but Suffolk always had a way of pulling me back. Suffolk is such a special place, sometimes it takes living somewhere else to fully appreciate its true beauty. 

What is your East Anglian Heaven?
I love the community feel here. I also love how diverse our county is. You can reach the seaside, forests, shops, pubs and parks all within a few minutes of each other. 

What is your East Anglian Hell?
Tractors. Always making me late! Although, I admire the work of all farmers….

What’s your favourite East Anglian restaurant?
As far as views go it would definitely be the Maybush Inn, Waldringfield. Sitting along the river eating, it epitomises Suffolk for me. I have taken about a million pictures there and still take more every time I go. My phone has even started its own “Maybush” photo album as I take so many.

What’s your favourite way to spend an East Anglian evening?
I really like the waterfront in Ipswich. It’s beautiful on a sunny evening and also stunning on cold, dark evening with the sparkly lights. I spent a lot of time here as a student at the University of Suffolk which is located on the docks. It’s just a great place to relax with one or five drinks, depending on what sort of night you’re having!

What’s your favourite East Anglian landmark?
I love the Orwell Bridge. It signifies home and I think it looks amazing on a sunny day or against a sunset.

What’s the best thing that happens in East Anglia every year?
The Project 21 Charity Ball. Every year has a musical theme; our next one is Queen themed and I can’t wait. Where else do you get to overlook the beautiful Suffolk landscape whilst singing your heart out to Bohemian Rhapsody (Shameless plug – sorry, not sorry)? In saying this, it is of course all depending on government guidelines.

What’s your specialist Mastermind subject?
Music. I am amazing at remembering the artists, titles and dates of songs. If there’s a music round in the pub quiz, you’ll want me on your team

What is always in your fridge?
Diet Coke – I’m completely addicted. And Prosecco!

What’s your simple philosophy of life?
To be truly happy, you need to bring happiness to others. 

What was your first job?
I was a lifeguard at my local swimming pool in Woodbridge. I am surprised they give 16-year-olds such responsible jobs. I think your first job shapes you as a person. It was a great way of getting to know my community. I feel very lucky to have had such in-depth first aid training which will stay with me forever. Everybody should learn first aid, it’s so important.

Who do you admire most?
Alfie. He’s the funniest person I know and never fails to light up a room. He is 18 years old and has Down’s Syndrome and Autism. The arrangement was for us to hang out together for a few hours on a Saturday. I was 18 at the time and Alfie was 10. I had no experience of Down’s Syndrome or really disability in general. When we first met, he ran away from me (repeatedly). I said I’d give him one more Saturday to warm to me before throwing in the towel… here we are, a decade later.

Alexandra Munn with her friend Alfie

Alexandra Munn, with her friend Alfie - Credit: Contributed

What is your biggest indulgence?
Pasta. If there’s no chance of pasta it’s a bad day for me. 

What do you like about yourself most?
I mostly have a really positive mindset and feel happy the majority of the time. 

What’s your worst character trait?
I’m strong minded and sometimes this comes across as bossy. I’ve got better at fine tuning this as I’ve got older. It’s worked in my favour as the leader of a charity, so it’s not all bad, hey?

Where is your favourite holiday destination?
Ah, this is so hard. I love travelling. If I had to choose it would probably be Australia and New Zealand so far. NZ is so beautiful and I love the sun so Australia is pretty ideal for that. Some of the places in NZ look like a laptop screensaver – you can’t even believe they’re real. The fact we can’t travel, makes me miss it even more.

What’s your favourite film?
The Intouchables. It is a quirky French film with English subtitles, but essentially a rich man becomes disabled after a paragliding accident and suddenly requires a live-in carer. A young offender turns up for an interview. The two men are polar opposites in terms of background and their experiences, but the close friendship they develop really resonates with me and my relationship with Alfie. I don’t see myself as his carer, I see us as companions and friends who look out for each other. This film navigates the highs and lows of a caring relationship and depicts it perfectly.

Best day of your life?
My 25th birthday with my best friend last year in New York City. I’d just got the keys to my first house a few days before Project 21 was officially granted charity status. I had also found out I’d be winning the Dissertation of the Year award at my graduation ceremony. I stood at the top of the Empire State feeling very accomplished and had a moment by myself to take it all in. 

What’s your favourite breakfast?
Tea and chocolate. Any type of chocolate works. I’m not a morning person, so a sugar rush is much needed to kick start my day.

What’s your favourite tipple?
A fruity G&T.

What’s your hidden talent?
I can roll my tongue… does that count?

When were you most embarrassed?
During a shift as a flight attendant, I was asked to do a public announcement across the tannoy to passengers. It was a charity collection for the Filipino people who had lost their homes in a typhoon. I was very tired, stood in front of 200 passengers and ended up saying “Please donate whatever you can afford to this great cause, the Jalapeno people will be very grateful”. A whole race of people mistaken for a pepper...

What’s your earliest memory?
I was probably about four. It was sunny and I was “helping” my Dad wash his car outside on the driveway. I got distracted by a pretty bumble bee and tried to cup it in my hands to take it inside to show everyone. Might explain my fear of all things insect now

What song would you like played at your funeral?
I do not believe in funerals. If I did it would be Louis Armstrong, What A Wonderful World. Maybe not very original.  I will not be having a funeral. You do not need to cry in a cold church over me – I would rather you threw a big party, ate lots of pasta and danced to 80s power ballads whilst drinking wine.

Tell us something people don’t know about you?
I have a brown fleck in my left eye.

What’s the worst thing anyone has ever said to you?
Hearing that my Grandma had passed away. I loved her so much, she was my best friend. I saw her every day and I couldn’t imagine life without her. You always think your Grandparents are immortal and will live forever. I still have her number saved on my phone and sometimes I forget and go to call her. It has been nearly four years. She helped make me who I am today.

Tell us why you live here and nowhere else...
I have travelled the world (well, quite a lot of it) and although beautiful, nothing compares to the connection I have with Suffolk. The community here has allowed me to pursue my dream, and if I’m lucky enough to have my own family one day I couldn’t imagine bringing my children up anywhere else.

What would you like to tell our readers about most?
My charity, Project 21, has changed my life – and with it, I want to keep changing the lives of people with Down’s Syndrome too. If you are reading this and have Down’s Syndrome, or know of somebody who does, please do get in touch because I would love to hear from you. Our website is www.project21uk.com, or you can email me on alex@project21uk.com. 

If you are living in Suffolk or Norfolk and have an interesting story to tell please email gina@hallfarmfornham.com or follow Twitter: @geewizzgee1 Instagram: ginalongmbe

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