"I’ve made a lot of lasting friendships over the years. The bond I have with the regional officers is something special. At one point I considered retiring from my role, but we have such a brilliant local team. I thought, I don’t want to retire yet, I’m too young!"
Meet our Volunteer Spotlight for October 2020, Spencer Wimbleton
Spencer lives in Cornwall and has volunteered with us for eight years. He's a Community Ambassador in the South West and raises awareness of diabetes and the support Diabetes UK provides by being a voice in his local community.
Journey with diabetes
I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes about 16 years ago. I had no real symptoms, I just felt tired. Diabetes never entered my head.
So I was stunned when my doctor said I had type 2 diabetes.
The only knowledge I had of diabetes at that time was that my uncle died of type 1 as a young man. My aunt also had type 1 and she used to inject with a needle that looked as though it should be used for darning socks!
I had visions of my Uncle Clifford dying and my aunt injecting with this horrible looking syringe. I felt like I’d been hit over the head with a sledge hammer.
I did get a booklet to read, but there was no education. Nobody told me what diabetes was, or even explained the differences between type 1 and type 2.
It’s incredible really that I managed to stay off medication for eight years. A friend who owned a health food shop helped me improve my diet, but I had no other support.
Finding out about Diabetes UK
Then, around eight years ago, I saw an advert in the local paper for Diabetes UK. At that time, they were doing roadshows with mobile units around Cornwall and they wanted people to train as risk assessors for a two-day event.
I applied and went along for a day of training. There, they showed me a video called ‘what is diabetes?’
Watching that, all the lights came on in my head. I suddenly knew what was happening to me. I’d been living with the condition all that time, but I had no idea what insulin was or what it did. I didn’t know what was going on in my body. All I knew was that I had to avoid sugar.
I think it’s pretty marvellous that I stayed off medication for so long. That was the lightbulb moment in my life.
Now, I’m on metformin. I’m very careful about what I eat and I have a fantastic Diabetes Specialist Nurse. I generally feel in very good health. I do Nordic walking and I recently booked myself onto a kayaking course, although that’s been postponed due to the lockdown.
Volunteering with us
At my volunteer training, I met people from the regional and London offices. I thought, ‘what a good bunch of people.’ When I discovered all the information they provided, I was blown away.
I realised I was quite good at chatting to people, so I started helping out at a variety of regional events. By then I was well and truly drawn in.
I love being part of a team. I love being with people. On those roadshows we’d do a mix of things – risk assessment, signing people up in the waiting room or on the street trying to encourage people. I loved that.
Eventually I was made a lead volunteer, meaning I could get out and do presentations on my own. I’ll give talks to any organisation that wants me. I try to make it fun and encourage people to question me, rather than talking at people about it.
The most common problem I encounter is the lack of education about diabetes. At our support group, we had five new people turn up one evening. I asked how many were aware of Diabetes UK and only one was.
Given that the major turning point for me was when I did volunteer training and realised all the information on support on offer, it’s disappointing to think that people might still not be getting what they need.
Before retirement, I worked in the careers service for 20 years and then for the Prince’s Trust. I think being a people person helps if you want to be a volunteer. It’s good if you’re not easily shocked, too!
I don't do volunteering for feedback, I do it because I love doing it. But getting great feedback pushes you to do more.
I’ve made a lot of lasting friendships over the years. The bond I have with the regional officers is something special. At one point I considered retiring from my role, but we have such a brilliant local team. I thought, ‘I don’t want to retire yet, I’m too young!’
I’ve done things I never thought I would as a volunteer, like going to a campaign launch at the houses of parliament!
I imagine some people see volunteering as something that makes you second rate. I’ve never, ever felt like that with Diabetes UK. For me, volunteering is like being part of a big family.
If you’ve been inspired by Spencer’s story, find out more about our volunteering opportunities.