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Volunteer Spotlight - John Bridges - August 2022

Meet our Volunteer Spotlight for August 2022, John Bridges

John Bridges was inspired to volunteer after he retired, wanting to help others affected by diabetes. He is the Chair of our East Staffordshire and Surrounds Diabetes UK Patient Network. We spoke to John to find out more about the innovative work he is doing in his community.

How it all began – getting involved

John was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes 17 years ago. He recalls that “it wasn’t a surprise because of the way my life was at the time, with a stressful job.”

Two years later, John’s wife was told that she had the condition, and more recently, his eldest son has been diagnosed.

In 2008, John’s granddaughter, who was aged 6 at the time, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, which wasn’t picked up quickly enough and she was very ill in hospital.

John decided to take early retirement and was inspired by his family's experiences to get involved in improving diabetes care and the lives of people with diabetes.

John started volunteering as a patient voice at his local GP practice patient group and joined the patient board at his local CCG in 2012, which he served on until June this year when it became an Integrated Care System.

John is enthusiastic about helping others with diabetes. He takes every opportunity to keep his knowledge of the condition up to date. He has enrolled in online courses to learn more about subjects like managing diabetes during Ramadan.

John’s role in his community

John is very active in his community in East Staffordshire. He joined his local support group in 2014, becoming Chair of the group in 2020.

“We’re here to support anyone who has diabetes, a connection to the condition or has an interest in diabetes. We don’t hold back from anyone joining the group.”

In 2022, John and the group kicked off two projects with the support of the South East Staffordshire Healthy Communities Group. One is to expand the group into a larger geographical area including Lichfield, Tamworth and Burntwood, and the other is to raise awareness of diabetes in diverse communities in Burton on Trent.

With the support from a local Staffordshire County Councillor, and Diabetes UK Midlands and East, John has put together a working group with other organisations within the local area to work together to spread awareness about diabetes.

One of these organisations is the Burton Albion Community Trust which John has been working with closely for years.

As part of his work in the community, John will be meeting with leaders of local mosques in August to talk about how they can work together.

He also has spoken to schools and colleges to try to set up initiatives. He is planning a three-day health and wellbeing event with a local school in January 2023.

John feels that there is a “snowball effect” with more organisations showing interest in hearing about diabetes.

He says, “if you get yourself out there, people will slowly get to know you.”

Volunteering during the pandemic

When the pandemic struck in March 2020, John volunteered to deliver prescriptions to vulnerable people. He later gave his time to the vaccination programme, assisting at the vaccination centre at Burton Albion football stadium.

His volunteering with Diabetes UK also adapted and he gave virtual presentations whenever he could.

The support group met online and was a welcome source of support for its members during a challenging time. John found it easier to attract speakers for the group with the convenience of Zoom.

John also took the opportunity to improve his health and well-being. At the start of the pandemic, he started walking and took part in our One Million Step Challenge last year, walking approximately 10,000 steps a day. He’s lost weight, his blood sugar levels improved, and he says, “I’ve never felt so fit or mentally healthy.”

He was pleased that he was able to inspire others to join in the challenge and feel the benefits of walking more. “It’s the little things like that that make you think yes I’m achieving something,” John says.

Success as an English Football League Diabetes Champion

John’s group has worked closely with Burton Albion Community Trust and Burton Albion Football Club over the years, hosting annual diabetes events at their facilities. A few years ago, they run a successful footcare event. The Burton Albion FC academy players had their feet examined by podiatrists to raise awareness of the importance of checking your feet. They also had a bucket collection at a home game that helped to raise money for the group.

As part of his role as an English Football League Diabetes Champion, John has used his contacts at Burton Albion Community Trust to discuss how Diabetes UK and Burton Albion FC could work together.

For World Diabetes Day in November, a Saturday home game will be handed over to Diabetes UK. There will be information about diabetes in the match day programme and at the family zone before the game. Diabetes UK will be promoted in other activities within the trust and Diabetes UK literature will be handed out. John has also been in conversations about there being a diabetes ambassador at the club.

John has written to other local football clubs and is hopeful that the initiative at Burton Albion will inspire more clubs to get involved.

Final thoughts: “It’s been a team effort”

John reflects that he wouldn’t have been able to get where he is without the help of his group members and those in his community and at Diabetes UK he works alongside. He says, “it’s been a massive team effort.”

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