Peer power – by Andy Broomhead
When we’re young, we’re often warned about peer pressure and we’re urged to stay away from all that bad stuff like smoking behind the bike sheds and drinking White Lightning outside the local shops. What no-one really tells us is that actually peers can have a huge impact on our lives in an extremely positive way.
Over this last weekend, I was involved in a couple of World Diabetes Day events where that Peer Power really came to the fore.
The first event was on the Saturday itself. Happy belated World Diabetes Day by the way! Our local group in Sheffield had agreed to run a small cake sale, tombola and raffle in the coffee shop at Sheffield Cathedral. Whilst the weather didn’t help us out too much, we still had the opportunity to talk to people about their experiences with diabetes. In between handing out leaflets, I overheard bits and pieces of conversations some people were having about group meetings and the chance to meet other people with diabetes.
Without wanting to quote anyone directly, the general feeling was that whilst people got a lot of use out of their annual/bi-annual hospital appointments, they really valued peer interaction as much, if not more so. It was encouraging to see that people who had come along to the event independently recognised each other from our group meetings and had a lot to say to each other, not just about diabetes, but life generally.
The second event we ran was on Sunday where we took a few families who have children with diabetes out for a game of bowling. Whilst our adult group in Sheffield is well established, there isn’t currently the same level of support for children and families and it’s something we’re trying to address. I’d met with a couple of parents previously to work out what we could do to try and engage people, and we were fortunate that almost 30 people agreed to come along.
In amongst the strikes and the spares, it was great to see parents who never met each other before, talking about comparing overnight blood tests, CGMs and approaches to pumps. At one point, someone turned to me and said “Do you know, I’ve found out more about some things this afternoon than I have done in months on my own.” Whether or not that bowling event leads to a huge change in how we support families, I can say with hand on heart that comments like that meant it was absolutely worth it.
We (rightly) talk a lot about how the advent of the digital age and social media are invaluable tools for peer support and networking. I know from my own personal experiences that without that chance to meet other people across the net that I wouldn’t have half the knowledge I have today. But I also know that the power of that knowledge is matched by peer support on a face-to-face basis. I’ve experienced it first hand at a DAFNE course, and I’ve seen how beneficial and important it can be to other people too.
Whilst digital interaction will continue to play a hugely important aspect in our lives as people with diabetes, it’s important to try and maintain that physical support too. I think each offer their own unique perspectives and benefits and can make a huge difference to people. Warning kids against peer pressure remains important today, but championing the benefits of Peer Power to people of all ages is just as crucial.