Voluntary Groups – By Andy Broomhead

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has… so goes the famous quote attributed to Margaret Mead.

Up and down the country there are groups of these committed people who are working in their free time to try and improve the support for people with diabetes at a local level.

There are approximately 400 voluntary groups across the country that provide help, support and information to people with diabetes and their carers.

I was recently elected chairman of the Sheffield voluntary group and I’m now starting to understand both the rewards and challenges that running a local group offers.

The rewards are possibly as you might expect – being able to work with an amazing group of people, all with their own experiences of diabetes, and all of whom are motivated to provide a community group for other people in a similar situation. Our group meets on the third Thursday of each month and we offer a different guest speaker on each occasion. The discussions give everyone a chance to find out more about some specifics about diabetes management or how care works at one of the local hospitals. Our February meeting will be about how Medical Detection Dogs can help people with diabetes, particularly around recognising hypos. The meetings are free to all and we have refreshments and a monthly raffle as well.

Getting people together like this every month naturally means that you start to build new relationships with people and diabetes talk is more the norm – something not everyone is used to in their daily lives. It also gives everyone the opportunity to share new information and get advice from the group.

Fundraising is obviously a large part of what we do in the group. As we’re an entirely voluntary group, we have to raise fund to cover the running of the group each year (e.g. room hire, promotional materials) but we also raise money to donate to the national Diabetes UK research fund each year. We also try to provide support to other local initiatives where possible.

The challenges facing our group can be summarised quite neatly with a few numbers. Using the most recent data available (Sept 2013), we know there are approximately 32,500 people in the Sheffield area with diabetes, an increase of over 600 in the past 12 months alone. Our monthly attendances at group meetings hover around the 30 mark (including the committee members) – in other words we reach about 0.1% of Sheffield’s diabetic population and that’s probably the thing we need to change the most.

Getting more people to attend the group meetings is really important for a number of reasons. First and foremost it allows more people the opportunity to socialise with others in a similar situation as well as giving them the ability to learn more about diabetes in an informal environment.

It also means that we could draw on a larger population of people for our fundraising events. As I mentioned above, the money we raise on a local level has the potential to filter into a lot of support areas, both locally and nationally. Whilst our fundraising was great in many respects last year, it was done by the same group of committed individuals that keep the group running.

I wouldn’t presume to speak for any of the other groups, I believe that we exist to help the local community. Our role is to “provide support, help, companionship, education and information for people living with diabetes and their carers” (that’s lifted from our website) and so I think it’s our responsibility to ensure the people in our community who would most benefit from what the group does know who we are and how to get more involved.

Over the course of this year, we’re going to look at how we can work more closely with local healthcare organisations and through new media to raise the profile of the group and hopefully start to see a boost to our attendances, and ultimately improve the lives of people with diabetes and their carers in the Sheffield area.

You can find your nearest local group by visiting the In Your Area page of the Diabetes UK website, selecting your region and then clicking on “Local Groups” on the left hand menu. I’m certain your local group would love to see you, and if you’re ever in Sheffield, do call in and see us!

You can follow the Sheffield Group on Twitter and find us on Facebook. If you’d like to contact us directly, our e-mail address is sheffielddiabetesgroup@gmail.com

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