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Volunteer Spotlight - Charlie Churchill

“Volunteering has become who I am. It’s not a side line, it’s who I’ve become in the next stage of my life. You’re recognised for it and it gives you identity. Working gives you an identity and after I retired I became just a person, and there’s that little part of you that’s missing, that’s still got something to give.”

Meet our Volunteer Spotlight for January 2021, Charlie Churchill

When Charlie’s career came to an end earlier than anticipated in 2017, a friend suggested that he volunteer. In 2018, Charlie made the step to find out more and apply to be one of our volunteers. He attended his induction training at the beginning of that year, and helped at his first event on World Diabetes Day in November. He helped to run an awareness stand at the University of Sunderland in London Docklands. Charlie describes this as a “big moment” because it was the first time that he’d spoken about his diabetes in public. Charlie lives with Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults (LADA), a rare form of autoimmune diabetes. He’s shared his story of being diagnosed and the everyday challenges of living with the condition.

Charlie’s supported at many awareness events over the last few years; at stalls, helping people to know their risk of developing type 2 and talking about his personal experience.

“I always enjoy the awareness events; we’ve done quite a few for British Rail and companies go out of their way to make you feel welcome. You get everything at the stalls; I always enjoy interacting with the other stall holders. For the four to five hours that you’re there, people can ask you anything. I also enjoy meeting other volunteers. We have students helping who are taking time off their studies to do it. Volunteers are giving up their time for free and they’re incredibly passionate about what they do.”

Charlie’s also regularly fundraised for our charity. He first took part in our One Million Steps Challenge in 2018 and has participated every year since. Charlie was invited by the Fundraising Team to talk at their 2019 conference about his experience doing the challenge. He wasn’t told how many people would be there, and he was glad he wasn’t warned, as there was a huge audience.

As well as volunteering and fundraising for us, Charlie’s a type 2 champion for the London Clinical Network, bringing his experience and insight into discussions with clinicians. He’s also a part of North West London Partners in Diabetes helping the patient voice be heard.

A life changing moment for Charlie

Twelve months ago, Charlie experienced a life changing event; he had open heart surgery followed by cardiac rehab. Six weeks on from his operation he was getting fit again. His recuperation was going well, and then the coronavirus pandemic struck.

Not able to complete his physio in the gym, Charlie set up exercise equipment in his back garden and continued. Charlie decided he would take part in the 2020 One Million Steps Challenge and this gave him a goal to work towards, especially with coming back to health and fitness and with coronavirus restrictions limiting everyday life.

Charlie completed over 1.7 million steps, the distance from Land’s End to John O’ Groats. He did 20,000 steps a day managing to raise over £1,500. 

Charlie’s success with the One Million Steps Challenge over the last few years led to a call from the Fundraising Team in summer 2020 asking him if he’d like to be a One Million Steps Ambassador. This role involved being an active part in the team, writing articles and blogs and posting about his challenge on Facebook, something Charlie threw himself into, posting funny or topical photos to encourage others!

Volunteering moving online

Charlie returned to volunteering in May 2020 after recovering from his operation. He found that things had needed to change because coronavirus restrictions prevented face-to-face volunteering. This didn’t deter Charlie and, over the course of the year, he attended more virtual events, wrote more articles and did more interviews than he had in the previous two years.

Charlie’s learnt new digital skills, sharing his screen to give presentations on Microsoft Teams and Zoom and using other online platforms he’s never used before. Giving talks online can be hard, says Charlie, “when it’s just you and your laptop, it can feel impersonal as an experience because you don’t know how well it’s being received.”

However, moving online does have its advantages. He’s found that talks, meetings and events are now more accessible for a wider group of people because they can join from wherever they are.

In his role with the North West London Partners in Diabetes, Charlie was part of a team that put together a live online chat show called ‘Homeshow’ in November 2020 discussing managing diet and exercise. This event went really well with about 30 people joining. The team are now planning more events.

Charlie also wrote various articles and blogs for the ‘Know Diabetes’ website in 2020, such as the benefits of daily exercise and his experience doing the One Million Steps Challenge. Plus,  we asked Charlie to write about his lockdown experience and the importance of having a routine, especially for people working from home.

Looking ahead to 2021

Charlie’s planning to continue helping at online events with our London regional team  and continuing his work with the North West London Partners in Diabetes. Charlie’s also given back to Harefield Hospital where he had his heart surgery. He’s trained in Digital Storytelling, helping to produce a series of short patient stories with voice overs accompanying photos. He’s started with his own story from the beginning right through to his recovery and the One Million Steps Challenge.

When asked what he’d say to someone just starting out on their volunteer journey, Charlie says “be yourself, live and learn and enjoy representing Diabetes UK.”

If you’ve been inspired by Charlie’s story, find out how you can get involved and volunteer.

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