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Volunteer Spotlight - February 2024 - Aashna Bali

To mark Student Volunteering Week 2024 (12-18 February), we caught up with Aashna, a medical student who created the University of Bristol Type 1 Diabetes community group

A young woman is sitting by a river
I never could’ve predicted where this would all end up. We’re so lucky to have resources to do all of this.

Starting out in volunteering 

Aashna was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was nine. Growing up, she’d been to social events run by her diabetes clinic for young people with type 1 diabetes to meet one another out of the clinic setting. She says she has such nice memories of these events, and it was good to meet other people who understood what living with type 1 diabetes was like.  

In 2019 she saw an advert for the Our Lives, Our Voices (OLOV) project, funded by the National Lottery Community Fund – Empowering Young People, in Northern Ireland. She decided to get involved because she’d enjoyed meeting other people with type 1 diabetes but had found it’s not always easy to do. 

When Aashna joined OLOV in the summer of 2019, they held a couple of in-person events before the COVID-19 pandemic meant they had to move online. The Young Leaders hosted peer support and social events online, and began planning a wellbeing programme alongside volunteers from mental health organisations in Northern Ireland, Action Mental Health and Aware NI.  

Aashna has been involved in a variety of opportunities with OLOV. She was interviewed through Diabetes UK Northern Ireland and an article appeared in the Irish Times encouraging BAME community members living with diabetes to have a COVID vaccine. She also met the NI Mental Health minister to advocate for better psychological support for people living with chronic illness. 

She says she’s particularly enjoyed the friendships she’s made as part of OLOV. The Young Leaders have found that they joined the programme to help others, but have seen the connection between them grow, and it’s been nice to share advice and experiences. And as the youngest of the Young Leaders in the project when she joined, Aashna found it really useful getting advice about living with type 1 diabetes from the older volunteers. 

Moving to university 

When she moved to university, Aashna went to a meeting held by the Bristol Diabetes UK local group. It was good to meet more people living with diabetes, but she did notice the age gap between herself and the other group members. She was used to spending time with younger people with type 1 diabetes, like herself, and missed the connection she’d had with them at home. So she started to “put feelers out” about starting a group for students at university. 

Aashna got in touch with a couple of other students with type 1 diabetes through a university-run Facebook page, and they initially formed a group chat to keep in contact and support one another. But Aashna wanted to make the group more accessible, so other students could find them through the university website. She was also keen that the group was affiliated with the Students’ Union as a society, which they did become. 

Aashna heard that the group could become a Diabetes UK community group, so she contacted her local South West South Central (SWSC) team, who she describes as “brilliant.” The SWSC Volunteering and Outreach Manager supported Aashna in formally setting up the group, from which students nominated and elected a committee to run it. And through Diabetes UK, she also got the opportunity to be interviewed on BBC Bristol to increase awareness of the group and its importance. 

The group’s activities have been different from the things Aashna was involved with for OLOV. The group is partly a university society; they’ve set up a social media page so other students can find them, and held a stall at the university’s freshers’ fair. But for Aashna it’s mainly a social group, and they’ve organised get-togethers both in-person and online.  

Initially Aashna was the group’s President, then became their Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) officer. As well as the social events, and signposting other students to useful links around the university, she was keen to organise different types of events for the group. Her best friend put her in touch with their personal tutor at university, a consultant who also lives with type 1. Through that connection, Aashna arranged for him to come along and be a ‘speaker spotlight’ for the group at one of their meetings.  

Aashna is no longer on the community group committee, as she’s a full-time student on placement, but she takes part in the group’s social activities. And she’s one of our Together Type 1 Young Leaders in the South West South Central region.  Funded by the Steve Morgan Foundation, Together Type 1 is our programme, launched in 2022, to support young people aged 11-25 with type 1 diabetes.  


Aashna says she’s loved all of her volunteering so far. She’s enjoyed connecting with the wider community, and working with healthcare professionals (HCPs) on an advocacy level.  

“It’s been so cool meeting so many people and encountering different opportunities.”

Aashna says a particular highlight was when she went along to talk to first-year nursing students at Queen’s University Belfast about her experiences of living with type 1 diabetes. She delivered the talk online, and didn’t realise how many people she was talking to – she was quite overwhelmed when she realised she’d been chatting to hundreds of people, who were genuinely interested in what she had to say, and asked some really insightful questions. But she says it was an interesting experience, and felt it was a great example of how important it is for HCPs to listen to patients’ lived experiences from as early on as possible in their training. 

“I never could’ve predicted where this would all end up. I think it’s such a great opportunity and we’re so lucky to have initiatives and resources to do all of this.” 

A message for others 

For other people interested in volunteering, Aashna says it never hurts to ask, to find out what’s involved. She knows it can be daunting getting started, but she advises people to ask questions to get some insight, then that’s the first step through the door. 

“The beauty of the projects I’ve been involved with, you just meet someone and have a conversation and you have a great connection, that’s all it takes to get involved." 

If you’ve been inspired by Aashna’s story, find out more about our Together Type 1 programme, or check out our other volunteering opportunities

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