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James’s story: my time with Our Lives Our Voices

James at Type 1 Through The Lens Exhibition November 2023


Our Lives Our Voices has had such a positive impact in building my confidence and showed me what I wanted to do

James is a Young Leader involved in the Northern Ireland Youth Programme Our Lives Our Voices. A five-year project supported by the National Lottery Community Fund; Our Lives Our Voices will soon join the wider Together Type 1 youth programme. Reflecting on his time with Our Lives Our Voices and his diagnosis of type 1 diabetes 11 years ago, James shares his story:

Being diagnosed with diabetes can be a shock for many. For me, I think my first three years of living with diabetes were really all about getting to grips with it and how I could settle into having a normal life. Whether it was playing football or eating what I wanted within moderation, I didn’t want my diabetes to hold me back. It was all about fitting it around my life, I work for an American law firm and really enjoy playing sports, reading books, watching movies and of course, I’m very passionate about volunteering too.


I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 13 on St Patrick’s Day, this makes my Diaversary very easy to remember! Whilst this can be a really overwhelming time, I was very lucky to have a father who also has type 1 diabetes, and a mother who understands the condition very well. They instilled in me very early that diabetes won’t hold me back in life, so the result was becoming very independent with my diabetes management.

I didn’t attend many events to meet other people living with type 1 while growing up, and I guess you could say that there was an element of peer support missing there. But that’s where Our Lives Our Voices came in. It wasn’t until I got involved that I learnt how important it really is.

No matter how independent I could make myself, meeting others that instinctively know what you’re going through creates a feeling of relief that is irreplicable.

Some of the valuable conversations I’ve had with those I have worked with through the programme will stick with me forever, and I am so thankful to have had that support.

So where did it all begin?

At the age of 16, I took the leap and helped organise a relay team for the Belfast City Marathon at my school. The fundraising was to go towards Diabetes UK, and so, this would be my first taste of volunteering.

From there, another opportunity came up when I was studying at the University of Ulster. A few of my friends from the Law Society were keen to get involved in some fundraising, again signing up a relay team for the Marathon. I managed to persuade them that the total should go to Diabetes UK, which they were all happy to support.

After tackling the marathon, I attended the Diabetes UK NI office where we snapped a picture with one of the large novelty cheques. Here, I had the chance to meet more of the team and chat with the Youth Coordinator at the time. They sold me on the idea of Our Lives Our Voices within minutes, and the rest was history!

Memorable moments

I was very interested in being a Young Leader from the start, and just wanted to hit the ground running as soon as I could. I feel very fortunate to have had a hand in some of our unique and events over the years. Being there from the very start, my first ever big event was a residential at Tollymore Forest Park – it was great to get to know the team more and meet other young people living with type 1.

Some of my biggest highlights since being a part of the project have been:

  • Planning and developing the Wellbeing Programme
  • Speaking with young people in the Hyde Wood Young Offenders Centre and Prison
  • Speaking to Stormont politicians about the project during an All Party Group on Diabetes meeting
  • Working alongside several Young Leaders to create the We are Type 1 video
  • Being a part of the Let’s Talk Diabetes podcast and sharing my experience

Building confidence

Our Lives Our Voices has had such a positive impact in building my confidence and showed me what I wanted to do. Without it, I don’t think I’d be able to go out into the community and speak to other people living with type 1 diabetes about my experiences, my tips, and generally about my personality.

Not only that, the programme has also helped me discover my passion for volunteering. The only way I can describe it is that I’ve caught some sort of bug – that wouldn’t have been possible without Our Lives Our Voices. Unlike the common cold, I don’t want to get rid of it!

I’m a big believer in positive role models and am grateful for the confidence I have to feel that I can play an important part in supporting other members of the type 1 community. I think seeing the Young Leaders I’ve had the pleasure of working with, out and about in the community giving talks, leading sessions, and fundraising, really shows how leading an extraordinary life is not held back by diabetes.

I’ve spoken about the massive impact it’s had on my own confidence and passion for volunteering, and it’s been wholesome to see that shine in the other Young Leaders I’ve worked with. I recently volunteered at the Type 1 Family Weekender in Belfast where I got to see two Young Leaders speak about the benefits of the project, I couldn’t help but feel proud to be part of it. We are all out there trying to make a difference.

Supporting and inspiring others

The initial goals of the project were to help young people boost their confidence and emotional wellbeing in managing type 1 diabetes. I believe we’ve not only met these goals but also fostered a supportive community that empowers young people to influence healthcare services and the diabetes community.

I think in offering advice to any young person living with diabetes, it’s to remember that you should never feel afraid to speak out about your diabetes. There are so many positive outcomes in doing so. If you’re having a hard time, sharing this with a peer who may have similar experiences might feel like the weight on your shoulders isn’t so heavy.

I also see opportunities in spreading awareness and inspiring others. Sometimes we come across people who are a little unaware of how diabetes works and that it is quite complex. This could be a great chance to teach them the ins and outs of how to support you, and just maybe this can have a great ripple effect in how they support others living with diabetes.

It's my dream that my ventures as a Young Leader will hopefully inspire a young person in some way to do something their diabetes made them afraid of, no matter how big or small. Have those conversations, run that marathon, climb that mountain, or even skydive out of that plane!

I think it would be safe to say that, since my diagnosis and then getting involved in Our Lives Our Voices, I have never looked back! Over the last few years, I’ve been involved in some amazing opportunities, and I’m excited to see where my volunteering ventures will take me in the next few years.

If you had to describe your experience of Our Lives Our Voices in three words, what would they be?

Passionate, valuable and supportive.

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