The Covid-19 pandemic has been incredibly difficult for communities across the UK. But for those managing long-term conditions it has often brought even more difficulty, anxiety and uncertainty. We look back on the incredible impact one Teeside support group has had on families living with type 1 diabetes.
The Type 1 Families North Yorkshire and Cleveland Diabetes Group was founded in 2016 by mum-of-three Jo Everson and her daughter Jess. Jo’s youngest child Adam, now 15 years-old, had been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes two years earlier.
Jo, 51, from Northallerton, works as an administrator with North Yorkshire Police. She told us: “We were really energised and full of ideas. It was clear that local families really wanted to meet others in a similar position. When a child is diagnosed with diabetes, it can be incredibly overwhelming for both them and their family. I’m a single mum and when Adam was diagnosed I wish I’d had someone who been through the same thing, to give me advice and understand what we were going through.”
Jo’s eldest daughter, Jess, 25, who works as a primary school teacher, set up a Facebook group right away. She launched what was at first the South Tees Family Group, which has since gone from strength to strength. From 10 members when it first launched, it now connects with over 300 families across North Yorkshire and Teeside. The members all have a child living with type 1 diabetes.
Before Covid, they offered peer support through their Facebook group. They also organised events for families and children, including soft play, ‘escape rooms’ and half-term activities. But, after lockdown the group had to find new ways to stay connected.
Jess said: “We started 2020 with a family event at a local pottery craft centre. We’d had an influx of families who’d all had children who’d been recently diagnosed. For them to be able to get together and for children to see other children injecting insulin and testing their blood glucose, it was huge. It makes such a difference to their confidence.
“When lockdown came in it felt like a real set back. We had all these new families learning to live with diabetes and but we weren’t able to get together anymore.”
The group’s Facebook group became even more vital during lockdown, as families were able to stay connected and support each other. In the past year alone they have connected with over 70 more families managing a diabetes diagnosis.
Jo said: “It was a really anxious time as a lot of people with diabetes were shielding but to have the group was such a massive support. Both Adam and I caught Covid and it was a really difficult to manage diabetes and Covid at the same time. I was particularly ill but to have a friend from the group at the end of a phone was such a huge help.”
Both Jess and Jo have been determined to still organise fun activities for the families involved in the group, to help families stay in touch and keep spirits lifted.
Jess adds: “We’ve had online quizzes and catch ups. And at the end of last year we held a competition encouraging children with diabetes and their siblings to tell us what diabetes meant to them through art. The pictures we received were amazing and really helped show what it’s like for young people with diabetes.”
Jo says: “Diabetes can feel isolating and being in lockdown really adds to that feeling. But we hope through the group we have shown that we can still be a community and support each other, even if we can’t always meet up in person.”
The group are looking forward to being able to organise even more activities for local families in the future.
Jess added: “We can’t wait to be able to hold more events in the future where our families can get together again in person. We couldn’t do this without the support of all the people involved in the group. They all work hard to help make life with diabetes that little bit easier for families across North Yorkshire and Teeside.”
Clare Howarth, Head of the North of England at Diabetes UK said: “Peer support has never been more vital and we’ve been blown away by the reach and impact the North Yorkshire and Cleveland group have had for families in the local area.
“Diabetes can feel relentless, not just for those living with the condition but their loved ones too. We’re incredibly grateful for all the work Jo, Jess, Adam and the group do to support families living with type 1 and to ensure that families are not alone.”