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Frankie's story - helping bring people together with peer support

Frankie smiling into the camera

Frankie Blake

Diagnosed with type 1 in 1966

A huge advantage of an online support group is that people can attend from anywhere in the UK, and they don’t have to go out in the cold and dark to get to a venue.

We spoke with Frankie Blake, Peer Support Facilitator at North Devon for Volunteer's Week 2021, along with Gemma Jackson, Volunteering and Outreach Manager in the South West. Frankie runs online peer support groups, and after feeling nervous at first, it's now going from strength to strength.


Frankie's experience setting up an online support group

Frankie lives in North Devon and before the pandemic she attended the local group’s public support meetings held at Roundswell Community Centre in Barnstaple, where people affected by diabetes could hear from guest speakers and meet others living with diabetes. Frankie, who has type 1 diabetes herself, says it was nice to see people, get together in groups and meet socially.  

When the pandemic started, these meetings stopped and Frankie spotted a new volunteering opportunity. Diabetes UK were advertising for Peer Support Facilitators to start up meetings online. This would help people in lockdown to continue to feel supported, stay connected and access the information they need to manage their diabetes well.

After chatting with the South West volunteering team about what’s involved, she decided she wanted to set up a group for people also living with type 1 diabetes. This would enable them to continue to meet, benefit from sharing their experiences and stay in touch despite the lockdowns during the pandemic.   

Frankie says that a huge advantage of her online support group is that ‘people can attend from anywhere in the UK, and they don’t have to go out in the cold and dark to get to a venue.’ Her members live across Devon and she hosts meetings in the evenings, so it’s ideal for people who work and couldn’t make a daytime get-together.  

Frankie attended the Peer Support Facilitator training run by Diabetes UK which supported her to consider the role, the importance of starting and encouraging group conversations, listening to each other and asking questions in a friendly and safe space. She says she was nervous before her first meeting but is now enjoying hosting the group, and they’ve had some great conversations so far. 

What happens at Frankie's sessions

The group has chosen to chat about the different ways they manage their type 1 diabetes, sharing how they are getting on using their own technology and different types of devices. They’ve also talked about how they are finding accessing care and booking online appointments. They also chat about how they are getting on during the pandemic with their diabetes, and with life in general.   

Members have thanked Frankie at the end of the meetings saying they’ve enjoyed getting together and found it useful to hear from each other, especially at a time when everyone has been more isolated than ever before.  

Frankie says there have been some challenges along the way in setting the group up, but by far the biggest hurdle has been learning how to use and host meetings on Zoom: ‘I tried to log in to host our first meeting, but ended up having to shut down, restart and send out a new link. It worked and when we all made into the meeting we had a great chat about the novelty of being on Zoom, which of course is now completely normal!’   

What's next for Frankie's group?

She says her group is hoping to appeal to new members and she wants to invite guest speakers. This will give people the opportunity to ask questions and chat with Healthcare Professionals such as Diabetes Specialist Nurses, Diabetes Consultants and a Dentist. Why a Dentist? ‘Very few people realise that diabetes can affect their oral health'. Frankie wants to help support people with every aspect of living well with diabetes.  

The group currently meet on the third Tuesday of each month.

You can contact Frankie Blake to find out more about the group. You can also find out more about our North Devon group.

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