Volunteering is at the heart of everything we do here at Diabetes UK. Here we share stories from people from across the country who have joined us in the fight against diabetes.

Ruth Portway June Spotlight photo

Ruth Portway

Volunteer Spotlight - July 2024 - Ruth Portway

Ruth Portway, 77, is a retired nurse and health service manager who lives on St Mary’s Island near Chatham in Kent. She has volunteered with us for 10 years. 

Her husband and son both live with type 2 diabetes. Ruth says “I have seen how difficult it can be for people to live with diabetes, both from a professional point of view as a former nurse and from a personal point of view."

Talking to People

Ruth says: “I am a listening ear. I’ve found that taking the time to listen to people helps them think things through and make their own decisions about managing diabetes.

“I help with events and stalls in various locations mostly in Kent (which is a big county!) for Diabetes UK. As well as listening, I’m there to help point people in the direction of help and advice. Sometimes people just aren’t aware of the importance of regular health check-ups, for example, which will give them a better quality of life.”

Looking to the Future

Ruth says: “When people ask me about volunteering, I tell them that I know from my working life that people do better when they have support.

“The good thing about volunteering is that you can give what time you have available but can set your own schedule. And you can stay local or go further afield. If anyone is interested in volunteering, I would suggest they simply look around their own community, their own locality and think about what they can do to help.”

If you’ve been inspired by Ruth’s story, check out our volunteering opportunities.

Read Ruth Portway's complete story
Katie Smith

Katie SmithDiagnosed 2018

The power of support and becoming a Young Leader

With a supportive family around her Katie handled the diagnosis, learned to manage the condition and headed back out into the world, taking type 1 diabetes with her. Following her diagnosis she trained and took part in an ultra-marathon.

While on the surface she was coping well, the underlying worries and feelings of being alone with the condition were there as well. Katie says that she has since discovered that many young people who have a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes as a teenager or young adult go through a similar experience - the feeling a bit of an “outsider” in their peer group.

Katie has signed up to become a Young Leader for Diabetes UK to use her experience to help other young people navigate type 1 diabetes.

She says:

“I was so pleased when I spoke to my former work colleague - we could relate to each other and I want to offer that to other people. it's great to be in a room with people who understand you in a way that others might not.”

Read Katie Smith's complete story
Vanessa standing outside smiling

Vanessa Laber

My impact

I liaise directly with organisations supporting diverse communities, community groups, and places of worship. I provide a range of diabetes information and training and liaise with the NHS to ensure people from a Black background have access to the support and services they need. 

I also train Community Champions to deliver diabetes awareness in their communities. These are volunteers, most often from a diverse ethnic background, who are likely to have personal experience with diabetes. They are passionate about diabetes prevention and ensuring people living with diabetes live well.  

As a Black woman, I understand the impact of marginalisation, and some of the challenges Black people face in accessing appropriate services, care and support.

At Diabetes UK, we are experts in diabetes knowledge. My role is about building trust within individual communities and learning from them. They are experts who understand the cultural nuances and unique challenges within their communities the best.

I’ve been so impressed with the way the charity is engaging with diverse communities. We have actively sought and recruited a more diverse board of trustees, recruited Engaging Communities Officers across the regions of England, and made unconscious bias training and active bystander training available to all staff. 

Read Vanessa Laber's complete story
Our volunteer, Shelby

Shelby SanghaDiagnosed with type 1 diabetes aged 16

Working with Diabetes UK

After I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, I was feeling very low. I joined some type 1 support groups on Facebook and taking this step made me feel better. I didn’t know anyone who had type 1 around me, and as much as I have such supportive family and friends, they don't fully understand the day to day struggles I deal with.

Across various online groups, people all over the country were posting things about different support networks. It was then that I decided to search “diabetes support groups” and that’s when I stumbled across Diabetes UK. I became a member and supported the charity - particularly as their mission was a cause that had become very close to my heart for almost a year.

Around that time, I was having a conversation with someone, and they couldn't understand the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes and the difference in symptoms and how people live their lives. I felt like some of my nearest and dearest didn't fully understand it either, so I wanted to find the correct resources and facts to give them the information to help support me further. 

Volunteering and Making a Difference

Because of the pandemic, my volunteering has been limited over the past couple of years, but I’ve got a lot of plans going forward in spreading awareness of diabetes. I’d like my future volunteering to consist of talks and being able to share my story and experiences of how I felt. I don’t ever want anyone feeling the way I did when I was first diagnosed. I want to help families support each other. It must be terrifying when someone is diagnosed even younger than I was, and I want to be part of a support network in helping others. 

One particular change I’ve been making is whenever I’m asked about my diabetes, I ensure I know facts and explain to others exactly what to look out for when it comes to diabetes. I think the one thing I’m most proud of is never giving up. Some days it’s really hard, but I have to remember that my diabetes is going nowhere. It’s with me for life, so I just have to embrace it. I'm proud of myself for coming up against the challenges I face day-in and day-out. 

Looking towards the future

My vision for volunteering is changing the way people see and know about diabetes.

I think in the future I'd like to see more social and interactive support networks available for people to use. Times are changing and more people, including the younger generation, are online and active on social media. Personally, I’d love to see more communities get together and spread awareness far and wide. 

Feeling part of such a huge and diverse charity is so rewarding, especially helping someone by giving them advice to help themselves. I wouldn't ever look back now. Being a diabetic myself, I know that diabetes will always be a huge part of my life. As a volunteer, learning new things every day to help myself is only a positive. 

Read Shelby Sangha's complete story
Our volunteer, Syed

Syed KerbalaiHas had several family members who live with type 2 diabetes

Raising awareness and sharing stories

By volunteering with Diabetes Scotland and continuously raising awareness, my hope is that individual behavioural changes result in a greater understanding of diabetes and better outcomes for all families and communities to ultimately improve early preventable deaths. 

When we feel at our lowest points due to family and community circumstances, it's easy to hear the voice that tells us that we can't make a change, nor improve these situations. By volunteering and giving back, I've found that it is possible to make real change. Not only that but it fills a mental health need too. I've found that with personal determination, I can make a change to truly benefit those around me - through empathy, kindness, and charity - so that others don't feel the void that I felt.

It's important to share these personal stories and to reassure all those suffering with diabetes that they're not alone.

Read Syed Kerbalai's complete story
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