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Volunteer Spotlight – June 2023 – Sue Briggs

Meet our Volunteer Spotlight for June 2023, Sue Briggs

When Sue was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, she knew nothing about the condition. So she started volunteering to learn more, and now has a variety of roles sharing her knowledge with others.

Sue Briggs - Volunteer Spotlight 2023

Sue Briggs

“The chance to see the impact you have is phenomenal.”

Learning about living with diabetes

Sue Briggs was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes around 15 years ago. At the time, she knew nothing about the condition, and went along to her local Diabetes UK office for some more information.

As a teacher, she was amused to find that most of the staff there were former pupils of hers! Sue’s motivation to volunteer for Diabetes UK was wanting to learn more about diabetes, and she now has a variety of roles in which she shares her own knowledge and experience of living with diabetes.

Sue regularly inputs to the Diabetes UK Online Support Forum making users feel welcome, answering their questions, and helping as much as she can. Sue has benefitted from the forum herself: “I was away in America and had an issue that I needed an answer to. I typed it in, went to sleep, and woke up to loads of answers! It’s absolutely fabulous.”

She also feels she got a lot of help from members of the forum when she experienced diabetes burnout a few years ago. There were other forum users who’d been through it, and she now uses what she learned from this to help others. She’s also learnt a lot about type 2 diabetes through the forum and she uses this in her other volunteer roles.

Sue’s says she’s very grateful for the support from Diabetes UK staff. When she began to feel she needed to do more for the forum than she had time to do, her staff contact assured her “whatever you do is great!” and she now feels more relaxed about the time and support she’s giving.

An interactive approach

A major role Sue has, is giving talks to groups about diabetes. She undertook the Speaker Volunteer training, and now helps the staff in her local office deliver it to other volunteers, something she really enjoys doing. She gives talks “wherever and whenever I can,” and has recently done so for the Women’s Institute, the U3A, and St John’s Ambulance.

Sue’s developed an interactive approach to delivering her talks. She uses a list of 16 statements about diabetes and asks attendees to spot the six false ones. She uses these as prompts for discussions, which can then last as long as people want.

She finds it a very flexible resource which seems to work well with any size of group – which is lucky, as she recently went to give a talk expecting to see around 80 attendees, and there was closer to 150 people in the audience! Thankfully staff from the local Diabetes UK office were available to lend a hand.

Sue uses the skills she gained during her career as a secondary school teacher to deliver education about diabetes in schools, something she really enjoys doing. She says she much prefers to deliver lessons than speak in an assembly (much to the delight of the teachers!), and has helped teach pupils studying for A-level Health and Social Care, and GCSE Science.

Again, Sue takes a flexible approach to this. Often, she attends a school where one of the pupils has been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Sue gives the pupil the choice of how involved they’d like to be with the lesson. She says she’s much more comfortable with secondary age children, as she taught that age group, but most often goes into primary schools.

Recently she was expecting to be working with the year 5 and 6 children, only to find she was asked to work with a year 3 class too! The teacher was on hand to help, and Sue says “It was good, because it made me have a go at something I’d not done before.”

She’s also trained school staff on how to care for a child living with diabetes. The lessons are very different to the ‘true and false’ prompts she uses when speaking to groups. She takes a more practical approach, encouraging the pupils to think about the effect of eating food on a person whose body doesn’t make insulin. Sue says asking the pupils to be more involved in the session is much better than asking them to simply listen to her.

Sue also uses her experience of working with young people to volunteer at the Type 1 Family Weekender events. As well as feeling like “one of the normal ones” being surrounded by other people living with type 1 at these events, Sue says “the chance to see the impact you have on children with type 1, and their parents and siblings, is phenomenal.”

“Just do it! It’s enjoyable, it’s fun, you’ll be valued, and you’ll have an impact. So just do it.”

Writing songs and raising funds

Sue is a member of a choir and is planning a concert in September this year to raise funds for Diabetes UK. In 2021, she composed a song for World Diabetes Day. Called The Best That I Can, the song is about Sue’s experiences of living with type 1.

She has now composed a second song called Hermione: Alert and Alarm, about how Hermione – her insulin pump – does a lot of work but sometimes interrupts what Sue’s doing, which members of her choir are quite used to! The concert in September will feature a performance of both of Sue’s songs and involve two choirs and a steel band.

When it comes to volunteering, Sue says “if I’m able and available, I’ll do it. All the Diabetes UK staff make you feel valued for what you are able to do.” Sue has spoken to a group of GPs about how she uses her insulin pump to manage her diabetes and the psychological impact of it, and in the past has given interviews for local TV, radio, and newspapers.

Even the Covid pandemic didn’t stop Sue volunteering, as she got involved with online information events, including one called ‘Ageing well with type 1 diabetes’ (a title which made her laugh!). “That was good fun, and those online events allowed people to access from all over the world, which was really good.”

Coming up, Sue is looking forward to attending induction sessions with new staff starting at Diabetes UK, to share with them her ‘real life’ experiences of living with type 1.

A great sense of community

Sue says she likes the variety of what she does, but some of her favourite things are seeing the impact volunteers have on families at Type 1 Family Weekenders, and the responses she gets to her ‘true or false’ discussions with a wide variety of audiences.

She says a particular highlight for her has been developing an interactive structure of the diabetes presentations: she thinks it’s a far better way of sharing the information than using slides, and feels that she has grown in confidence in answering questions that arise.

Sue also gets a great sense of community from the online support forum. “You can ask anything, and others can ask for your help. All volunteering is a two-way process, you get out of it as much as you put in.”

Sue’s future plan for volunteering is to continue doing “anything I’m able and available to do.” And her message to anyone considering volunteering with Diabetes UK is “just do it! It’s enjoyable, it’s fun, you’ll be valued, and you’ll have an impact."

You can also read more about Sue's experiences of living with type 1 diabetes and volunteering with Diabetes UK.  

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