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Volunteer Spotlight - West Lothian Group

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“Don’t be afraid to go along to your local group, it’s really rewarding. You can do as little or as much as you like. There are always things you can get involved in and you will get immediate satisfaction that you are helping people.”- May Millward, Chair of the West Lothian Group

Meet our Volunteer Spotlight for July 2019 - the West Lothian Group

May Millward is the Chair of the West Lothian Group. She joined the group over a decade ago. “We’re celebrating our 10th anniversary this year, we’ve come such a long way since we started and you can really see that you’re making a difference”.

How it all began

The group originally formed in early 2007 as the Livingstone and District Group. “Local people started the group alongside some of the diabetes team from St. Johns Hospital, but by February 2009 it only had around 35 members. I had recently joined at that point and been appointed as the new Chair. We decided to re-launch the group as West Lothian in May 2009 to make it more inclusive over a bigger area” says May.

“Our first year was focused on expanding the membership, and as it was Diabetes UK’s 75th Anniversary, we wanted to get 75 new members by the end of the year! We tried as much local publicity as possible. We produced packs for newly diagnosed people, put posters in local GP surgeries and spoke to lots of different GP’s and practice nurses." 

"We developed a good relationship with St. Johns Hospital and still to this day hold a regular information table at the diabetes clinics. We eventually had information tables at around half of the surgeries in West Lothian, and it all helped with increasing our membership”.

Today the group has over 350 members on their mailing list and regular attendance at their busy calendar of meetings and events.

The Lifestyle Project

"The Lifestyle Project started 5 years ago. We were good at educating people and giving lots of information and support, but we wanted to do more to help people manage their diabetes. We introduced an exercise programme and seated exercise sessions for people with less mobility, continued our weekly walking group and now also run a nutrition club every week. Our ‘Personal Best Exercise Programme’ holds twice weekly sessions in a local gym. It’s great for both physical and mental well-being and supporting diabetes self-management. The sessions are really good fun and friendly and not at all intimidating! As a group we fundraise to keep them going, so the sessions are free to anyone with diabetes and all group members."

"Keeping this project going has been one of our biggest achievements. It’s all based on having a small group of people at each session and having a professional leading the group. They give a great balance of both individual and group support for your diabetes, but it is also tremendous social and peer support. It’s about building friendships and doing something that’s good for you at the same time. People who attend have become friends, they get more involved and then end up giving more back to the group."

The group activities don’t stop there…

The group has around 30 active volunteers who help out on a regular basis.

A couple of years ago one of our members joined because he heard about the exercise classes we offered. He was so pleased with what the group did for him that he ran a half marathon with his family and raised money for the group. He now does lots of fundraising and organises regular parties and events. It’s been quite new for us to do this much fundraising to support our own activities, but it all helps to keep our projects going. Quite a few of our members also get involved in the annual Kilt Walk, walking many miles to help raise money for Diabetes Scotland.

"We’ve also been doing Know Your Risk events for about 5 years now. We had some external funding to buy our own equipment, and have worked a lot with the DWP and HMRC because they are very into health and wellbeing for their staff. We recently held a Know Your Risk event with a South Asian ladies group with the help of a translator. It was really interesting because the referral rate was very high, over 90%. We also did a night shift at the Tesco distribution centre, as the night staff rarely get the opportunity for things like that. We’ve got a lot more Know Your Risk events coming up this year."

The group also holds diabetes awareness talks in the area. “We did about 20 talks last year. There is a local project that provides befrienders for older people, so we do talks to their new befrienders to help them gain a basic understanding of diabetes. We also speak to a range of people including Care Assistants, Care Homes, and crisis support staff, as well as the usual talks to Women’s Institutes and Rotary Clubs. It makes such a difference getting out there and talking to people, the talks go down very well and people are really interested”.

Changing Lives

“The Lifestyle Project has been a big success for us, especially because we’ve sustained it. The walking group has been going since we started, every week without fail, whatever the weather. We’re helping to change people’s lives, offering things to help them manage their diabetes. People have a completely different attitude to their diabetes after they attend, I’ve seen them completely change from when they joined to where they are now.

“We also heard a great success story after a Know Your Risk event we held. A couple visited the event and learned they were both at high risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. They returned to see us the following year having lost an incredible 6 stone each! The awareness raising that the group does is phenomenal, we speak to over 1000 people per year at different events and increase awareness of diabetes."

"We promote the group through our website and social media pages. But alongside this we also have a private Facebook group specifically for our members. It’s a community of people who don’t make it to meetings, and it’s a great area for people to share. It’s invaluable and a really good communication tool to keep in touch with people."

What’s next?

“More of the same! We’ve got some big Know Your Risk events planned at health and wellbeing days, and we are celebrating our 10th anniversary year with a Big Charity Party. We’re holding a race night in October as well as our monthly meetings where we have regular speakers. We’ll be holding our annual question time panel with a consultant, diabetes specialist nurse and a dietitian, this meeting normally gets quite good attendance.

“We’ll also be continuing our bi-annual information fair that we started a few years ago. We invite different organisations with a connection to diabetes and have about 25 different stalls. Most of our members don’t have access to this type of health fair, so we generally have good attendance.

“We also hold attend an annual event during Volunteer’s Week, as a thank you for our group volunteers who give so much time to help us throughout the year and present certificates to all our volunteers . We also organise a lunchtime gathering for volunteers at Christmas. We are keen on valuing our volunteers, they are so important.”

What would you say to other people thinking about volunteering or getting involved in their local group?

“Do it, go along. Local groups are incredibly friendly, just go along to a meeting and you will be welcomed. There’s always things you can do and get involved in, from helping set up a meeting and organising refreshments to getting involved in fundraising and awareness raising activities. Don’t be afraid. You will get back much more than you give. You’ll make friends, meet people with other shared interests and tap into lots of information increasing your own knowledge. You will get appreciation and recognition, but it’s much more about the satisfaction of knowing that you are contributing to something important.”

If you’ve been inspired by the group’s story, get involved.

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