“It’s exciting when you see you’ve made a real difference.” - Bruce Smith
Meet our Volunteer Spotlight for December 2018
“Volunteering an hour of your time to engage with someone and noticing the positive impact from that small investment is really nice,” explains Diabetes Scotland volunteer Bruce Smith.
The 24-year-old master’s student from Dunblane is part of the Young Leaders Project, a group of 16-25 year olds with Type 1 diabetes who deliver projects supporting young people with Type 1 across Scotland.
Bruce was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was five years old. He remembers waking up every night and wandering into his parents’ room where they kept a pint of juice by the bed. “My parents knew how to teach me to manage my diabetes and there was a safety net for me, but I never felt like I was different. I know not everyone gets that level of support.”
It was a talk that Bruce attended as a teenager that planted the seed of how he could support and inspire other people with diabetes. “My Mum took me along to a talk by a man in his mid-twenties who had Type 1. He had done marathons and triathlons, which made me think that I could go on and do that, too. Spending 45 minutes with that guy had a huge impact on me and I thought it would be cool if I could do that for other people.”
When Bruce was studying for his degree in Sports Biomedicine at Dundee University he came up with the idea of a buddy system that could operate in local paediatric diabetes clinics. “I was keen to help set something up to engage more with young people, as I think it’s an age bracket that’s hard to connect with.” Bruce managed to arrange an initial meeting with our local diabetes team at Ninewells Hospital, however nothing ever came of it.
Young Leaders Project
In April 2017, Bruce was recruited for our Young Leaders project. “I thought ‘that’s perfect, this is the platform I’ve been looking for.’ It’s a real project doing real work to have real engagement with young people.” The project began in July last year and, although the volunteers are busy with full-time education or work, everyone has got to know each other well and are really supportive of one another.
Bruce has been involved in many activities and events as part of the project. However, the young leaders were asked to come up with their own ideas, which is where Bruce decided to develop his buddy system.
Still in its early stages, T1 Buddy is now being run in several clinics in Glasgow, where Bruce is currently studying. “I wanted something flexible and simple that we could build on.” The idea itself is quite simple: one or two volunteers attend the diabetes clinic and chat to the young people in the waiting room who have come in for their appointments.
Bruce says the feedback he often gets is that there are many young people who might have been living with Type 1 diabetes for years but have never met another person with the condition. “A lot of people can feel quite isolated. They might be on Facebook groups and get to chat to people through a computer but it’s nothing like getting a real human interaction with someone. They gain a lot just from meeting somebody else in the same boat.”
And Bruce gets to see first hand the positive impact this can have. “I met a young guy in the clinic the other day and told him I was a volunteer with Diabetes Scotland. He said, ‘Oh, you’re Type 1, too? That’s cool.’ He then asked me all about my diagnosis, whether I used a pump or injections, if I was sporty, and how I managed diabetes with my work.” In fact, by the end of the conversation he wanted to know how he could apply for the Young Leaders Project himself.
But running T1 Buddy is not without its challenges. “The biggest barrier to my project is time and commitment from volunteers. So I always stress to volunteers, any time you can commit is a bonus.”
Looking to the future
Regardless of the challenges, Bruce has great ambitions for the T1 Buddy project. “The ideal is to get it really fine-tuned so it can be rolled out across lots of clinics.” Bruce thinks the key will be building the number of people in the Young Leaders Project who can then join the T1 Buddy team. “I want to get it properly set up and organised so that it will run itself if we have enough volunteers that come onboard.”
So what would he say to others thinking of following in his footsteps? “If you’re even considering getting involved then that’s a sign that you’re ideally suited to join our growing team. As well as the satisfaction of making a positive impact to other people’s lives with Type 1 diabetes, our volunteers also take away huge benefits in terms of personal growth and development, so it’s a real win win.”
If you have been inspired by Bruce’s story and would like to know how you can get involved, visit our volunteering pages to get started.