Meet our Volunteer Spotlight for May 2021, the Chippenham & District Local Group
The highlight for us has been being able to keep our group going during the pandemic, providing excellent peer support for people; we’ve thrived with online meetings.
This month we’re focusing our spotlight on the Chippenham & District Local Group. The group not only serves Chippenham, but also the surrounding towns of Corsham, Melksham, Malmsbury, Devizes and Calne. The group moved online very quickly at the start of the pandemic and have run fortnightly meetings since. We spoke to the group’s secretary, Liz Moulder, to find out more.
Joining the group
Liz was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2004. She discovered the group, which had been established for over 35 years, after researching in her local library. She says “It was a shock when I was diagnosed and I wanted to learn more about my condition and meet other people with diabetes”.
In January 2018, Liz took up the role of group secretary. Before the pandemic, the group met six times a year, every two months.
“We’d have a speaker, usually a healthcare professional to talk about a specific aspect of diabetes. We ran occasional awareness events for major employers such as the Ministry of Defence and joined the Devizes Lions Club May Fair event. We also held an event at my local gym and gave support to various other events in and around Chippenham.”
Adapting to moving online
The group were one of our first to start running online meetings when the pandemic struck. Their meeting in March 2020 was cancelled, but by April, they were running online group meetings. Liz thinks that this has been key for the group, starting early and capturing interest from the start.
“I belong to a choir and it went online very quickly after the lockdown. It was lovely to see and speak to each other and I thought it could be ideal for the Chippenham Group!
Luckily, Alice our treasurer uses Zoom regularly for work. We had a test committee meeting and we all managed to get online. We then had our first group meeting on 1 April. We just did it! We spent that meeting catching up and talking about how we were feeling about the pandemic and lockdown. We asked the group how often we should meet, and they said fortnightly! We were a bit gobsmacked, but we went with it.”
The group runs three different types of meetings. They have a general catch-up, a peer support meeting with a theme, and a meeting with a speaker on a specific topic. They keep numbers to around 15 for small meetings and 25 for bigger meetings.
“The group gives us a chance to talk to other people with diabetes and hear what works for them. We don’t offer advice but can say ‘this is what I do’. There are also opportunities to hear from healthcare professionals and to ask any questions that you don’t normally have time to ask in appointments.
An advantage of the meetings being online, is that we’ve been able to access speakers that wouldn’t normally be able to come. The South West team helped us to arrange speakers from Diabetes UK including a talk from the Senior Research Communications Officer Faye Riley and from Emma Elvin, dietitian, and Senior Clinical Advisor.
One discussion that we held was around injecting. We showed a Diabetes UK video of someone doing their injection. It showed the correct way of injecting. Often in practice, it’s not always that easy and it can hurt and cause bruising, so it was good to have an open and honest discussion.”
A highlight from this year was a meeting the Chippenham Group ran with Medical Detection Dogs in February 2021 where the group had 50 people attend from across the South West.
“The dogs help people with diabetes as well as other medical conditions. We heard from someone who had brittle diabetes. It was so interesting to hear what having the detection dog meant to them and the huge difference it made to their lives. The talk went really well, and we had some lovely messages back from attendees saying how much they’d enjoyed it.
We also held a quiz at Christmas. Our treasurer Alice ran it with questions on Chippenham and diabetes.”
The power of peer support and conversation
Liz acknowledges the benefits of the general catch up meetings, especially in the early days of the pandemic.
“Everyone was in a new situation, having to handle something they never expected to. People were concerned about how they were going to get their medication and appreciated knowing someone else was in the same boat. If you’re feeling a certain way, lots of other people probably are too.”
In the first few meetings, they went around the group and asked everyone how they were. It was beneficial for everyone to have a chance to speak and share how they were feeling.
“Jo, another committee member said at one meeting that we’d all got to know each other better as a group online. Usually, when the group meets in person, the committee are busy setting things up and taking things down afterwards, so we don’t get the chance to chat over tea and coffee very much with the other group members and they tend to talk to the same people.”
Working together as a committee
“We were a new committee in January 2020, with Joyce and Alice coming in as external recruits to keep the group going. We learnt to work together quickly and support each other.”
In group meetings the chair, Joyce, opens and closes the meetings with Liz hosting and Alice (Treasurer) co-hosting, although they sometimes swap roles.
“Since the pandemic, we’ve needed to spend more time planning each meeting, how it will run and how we’ll manage the room. We’ll regularly discuss it between us over the phone. We’ve learnt about new features of Zoom as we’ve gone along and from attending training run by the Diabetes UK South West team.
I also did Peer to Peer support training that Verity in the South West team ran and, although we’d been doing online meetings for 6 months by then, I still learned a lot and it gave me more confidence to run the themed meetings.”
The way that Chippenham adapted, inspired other groups in the South West and they started to run online meetings too. The Chippenham Group invited the Bath, Swindon, and Warminster groups to meetings with speakers where it’s easier to have more people.
As well as the three officer roles, the group currently has two other committee members, Jo and Chris, and they contribute to finding speakers, making group decisions and developing promotional materials.
Future for the group
The group are now turning their attention to thinking about running face-to-face meetings, when it’s safe to do so again. They’ve learnt a lot from the last year, Liz explains.
“We can see that there’s a continuing place for online meetings, even when the pandemic is over. It allows us to access speakers we wouldn’t normally get. We’ve managed to gain new members during the pandemic. There are members who would be happy with either face-to-face or online but also people who would only join one or the other. We’re looking into the possibility of setting up a laptop and projector at our face-to-face meeting so that everyone can be involved.
We’d like to arrange something for the group to do socially – even if it’s a picnic in the park. We’ve not met some of the newer members in person, so it would be nice to do so.
From April 2021 we’ve moved to monthly meetings but we’ll keep asking our group what they want, and we’ll keep reviewing.”