New Year, New Group Momentum by Andy Broomhead
Before I’d gotten involved with any kind of voluntary work with the group, I was convinced that whilst some people must need support from these groups, I definitely wasn’t one of them. I thought I knew more than enough about my diabetes to be able to control it adequately and that I had a good handle on the science of how everything works to be able to deal with anything life could throw at me. Surely I didn’t need the help of a group?
Now I’m quite happy to admit that all of that was misplaced and that just being involved with the group (let alone being Chair) has been a hugely positive experience for me on a number of levels. Firstly it’s a great reminder that I definitely don’t know everything about diabetes and that there’s always something new to learn. It’s also a fantastic opportunity to meet and socialise with other people with diabetes. Despite diabetes affecting about four million of us nationally, it can be quite easy to feel like no-one can relate to what you’re going through. At group meetings, everyone has similar experiences to share which can be very reassuring.
In Sheffield we hold monthly meetings at a central venue in the city (you can see our programme of events for this year on our website). We invite speakers from the local healthcare community to come and give a talk on a particular topic or theme, some of which we request and others which are possibly related to a particular area of research that the speaker is involved in. We open up early to allow people to come along and catch up over a cuppa before the meeting starts. The speaker then typically talks for around an hour, taking questions from the group as they go. That kind of participation is really key for us as it gives people the opportunity to engage directly with local consultants, doctors, nurses and other diabetes services on a more personal level. As diabetes is a largely self-managed condition, our contact time with healthcare professionals is often limited and so meetings like this give people more opportunity to get involved in their care.
The other hugely important aspect to being involved in a local group is the opportunity to fundraise and campaign on behalf of people with diabetes. We regularly get people telling us they’ve found out more about diabetes at one meeting than they have in years of living with the condition. Whilst that is comforting in one sense, it also highlights how stretched diabetes services are and how much more scope there is for improvement. As a group we have a platform to engage our local Commissioners about diabetes care and the opportunity to try and influence how the services we all need are provided.
We’re holding our first ever Patient Engagement Event on 24 February where we’re bringing together an expert panel of local healthcare experts and diabetes patients to discuss how diabetes care works in Sheffield and what improvements those who actually use the services would like to see. It’s a great opportunity for everyone to make their voice heard and speak directly with the people charged with running the best diabetes service possible.
Local groups face some fairly significant challenges, not least around sustaining a membership. For all their efforts, it’s not always easy to sell the benefits that you can get from coming along to meetings and yet the groups are run with the aim of supporting those in the local community. As I said at the start of this post, I was fairly reticent before I decided to get involved – it’s always easier to do nothing than do something. But groups can give you support, help and information that it’s unlikely you’ll find anywhere else and give you that feeling of solidarity that is hard to come by sometimes. There are over 300 groups like ours across the country (you can find your nearest group on the Diabetes UK website) and they are always eager to welcome new members. You get the chance to learn and socialise with others, whilst the group benefits by having new advocates for the vitally important work they do.
I genuinely believe that groups offer us as people with diabetes a unique opportunity to learn and support each other, regardless of how long you’ve had diabetes. Take a chance, find your nearest group and go along to their next meeting – I doubt you’ll regret it. And it goes without saying that if you’re in Sheffield and want to come down and see us, you’ll always be more than welcome.