Community Champions meet Theresa May on World Diabetes Day – by Tania Aubeelack

What should we, Community Champions, make of Theresa May’s visit?

Well, it sure was quite a shock for all of the five Champions who were invited to the official opening of Diabetes UK new office on 14 November 2016 – World Diabetes Day . Whilst I was waiting in Marjorie’s room with Rohit, a recently-trained community champion, I could see that things were starting to buzz as the door was wide open, staff members were moving up and down and the volunteers were told not to wear any Diabetes UK’s care-connect-campaign logo. This surely applied to me as I was wearing my Diabetes UK sleeve and light blue arm band so I took it off quickly.

I could feel the build-up of energy, expectations and stress that usually originates from ‘everything needs to be perfect’. Looking to my right, through the window, I could even see a man dressed all in black – black trousers, black shoes and black jumper -‘guarding’ the office entrance as he was walking back and forth while lifting his right arm up to his mouth. I remember thinking that it was pretty serious business, and not something we are used to everyday!

There were some familiar London volunteers that I immediately recognised when I got inside the room. They were waiting patiently while having some breakfast. The first volunteers that crossed my sight was the ‘Shirley couple’. I called them as such because I have never seen them volunteer without each other throughout my time with Diabetes UK. I received a hug with a lovely cheerful smile which is no stranger to me as they have never welcomed me any differently before. I was also kindly and warmly greeted by the remaining Community Champions that I have been closely working with – Julia and Anna specifically. Diabetes UK truly has the best kind-hearted and passionate volunteers!

It was also great to have seen Rohit after a while. He has been a Type 2 diabetic patient for a number of years now and has recently been struggling with his blood glucose level control. He has managed ever since to reduce his weight significantly and acknowledged that becoming a champion has helped him to build-up mental strength and understanding of why those changes were needed.

As Champions, we believe in ‘living the dream before selling it’. It is our duty to lead by example and share our experiences of what it takes to ‘change habits’ among families, friends and surroundings. As a result, it equips us better in our engagement because we’ve understood the self-discipline, determination, motivation needed to acquire change.

By the time we were waiting we eventually discovered that Theresa May was coming. I think all the Champions had pretty much the same reaction of not knowing the extent of what was happening. Unsurprisingly, we quickly turned our random conversation to what we were planning to say.

After slowly walking towards us, Theresa May gave each one of us a gentle hand-shake and patiently stood in front of us for a few minutes to carefully listen to what we had to say. We talked briefly about how the Champion training and our engagement work has enabled most of us to make positive changes; Julia asked her to join the fight against diabetes by becoming a Champion herself and I touched upon the strongly-held traditions and language barriers in communities. I personally thought that Theresa was very receptive to what we had to say, acknowledged the hard-work and the scale of the challenge as she nodded her head, laughed and smiled all the way through our short exchanges with her.

In the end, I was so happy that she mentioned us in her closing speech – this meant that we did a good job in presenting our mission and what we stood for as Champions. I am sure that she must have been very impressed by what she saw and listened to. Another victory for Diabetes UK Champions!

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