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Volunteer Spotlight - Sandra Tweddell



“Volunteering has helped me develop skills I didn’t know I had. I’ve made lots of new friends and it’s good to feel like you’ve made an impact.”

Meet our Volunteer Spotlight for March 2019 - Sandra Tweddell

Sandra Tweddell has been volunteering for us since November 2010. “After retiring from my job as an International Education Consultant, I wanted to use the skills I had developed in my professional life, so I threw myself into volunteering. I used to work internationally supporting governments, and states in the USA, that wanted to improve their education systems. That’s given me the confidence to do what I do now”.

Where it all began

“I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1961, so I’ve been a member of Diabetes UK since then. In November 2010, I saw that Diabetes UK and local clinicians were advertising to start a support group in South Bristol. I was about to retire so I went along and ended up volunteering as the Treasurer. Clinicians were keen to see more provision of support for people with diabetes and wanted a network of local groups in the area, so they enlisted my help. We developed three other groups, one focusing on type 1 diabetes, the others mainly on type 2.”

Soon after the groups were established, Sandra began to receive emails from local healthcare professionals about various initiatives in the area, as diabetes was a top priority for the local Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG). “We met and formed a strategy group, which helped set a direction for the network of groups we had around Bristol. It became apparent that with four groups in the area we could be fighting for resources, so we set up a co-ordination group. Members of each support group come together, share ideas and plan our annual programmes. It helps to reduce the risk of committee burn-out.”

Based on her strategic work with the CCG and healthcare professionals, the South West team were keen for Sandra to become a Service Champion volunteer. “I work really well with the South West Regional Head and the rest of the team. As part of my role I also sit on the Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Sustainability and Transformational Partnership. I use anonymous feedback from people who attend the support groups to talk about their experience of diabetes services, so that the CCG know what is happening on the ground. I’m also a Diabetes UK representative on the Management Board of the Oxford Box project. It follows families with type 1 where it seems hereditary, looking at ways to prevent and cure it."

It doesn’t stop there 

Sandra isn’t just a Service Champion, and uses any opportunity to raise awareness of diabetes. “I run a Facebook group to share information about what’s going on in the area, sharing news items, research, Diabetes UK updates and information about group meetings. We don’t give medical advice, but we do share our experiences. Digital and online support is the way it’s going. I’m also a lead Know Your Risk volunteer. I run events in the area to help people understand their risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

I get lots of requests to do general awareness stands, but people are very interested in Know Your Risk. I also give a lot of talks as a Speaker Volunteer. I’ve spoken at the local DVLA office, and to local communities where diabetes is quite prevalent. I have done some work in schools, talking to staff and raising awareness. I also talk to healthcare professionals about my perspective of having diabetes. I remember speaking at an event for GPs and Diabetes Specialist Nurses, and in five minutes, my blood glucose went up from 7 to 17. It shows how stress, pressure and adrenaline from public speaking can contribute to challenges in managing your diabetes. It was a very memorable teaching moment for the group of healthcare professionals sat in front of me!"

Highlights and achievements

“I am proud of the structure of the Bristol network. There were no support groups available at the time, but we now have four groups to support people in the area. I enjoy representing the patient voice in my role as a Service Champion. It can be quite daunting to sit in the same meetings as members of the CCG and local clinicians, but I feel respected and valued at the meetings. They’ll ask me my opinion on new things that they are thinking of introducing.

I thoroughly enjoy the social interaction of volunteering for Diabetes UK, meeting so many different people and making new friends. One of the things that comes across in the meetings is how much I’ve learnt from others. I didn’t talk about having diabetes until my mid to late 30s, it’s personal and I didn’t want to tell other people. The stigma is something that we’re tackling as well, it’s a huge issue that we’re challenging." 

Future plans for your volunteering? What’s next?

“I’m thinking about succession planning! I’ve got another member of the type 1 group involved to go to meetings, as I want to make sure that the traction keeps going when I do step down from my volunteering activities in the future. A key element is getting feedback from the other people with diabetes and sharing this with the healthcare professionals. It’s not just me, I’m working in partnership with other people. This is so important to making a difference. On a personal level, I am looking forward to watching my new baby granddaughter grow up."

If you’ve been inspired by Sandra’s story and would like to get involved, get in touch

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