Celebrating community: Sonny's first meet up in Battersea 

Volunteers’ Week takes place this year between 3-9 June 2024 and as part of this we wanted to shine a spotlight on the work of one of our dedicated Coeliac UK volunteers. Sonny recently hosted a successful Meet Up in Battersea at Gluten Free accredited venue, Pizza Express. The event brought together individuals from the local community to share their experiences and support each other in a friendly and welcoming setting. 

The event was a huge success with a strong attendance from a group of individuals all with a different story. Whilst some had been recently diagnosed with coeliac disease, others have been managing the condition for years. One attendee, diagnosed in his 70s, shared that he likely had coeliac disease all his life but was only diagnosed recently due to longstanding symptoms. 

Sonny said; "Everyone was happy to chat about their different struggles and everyone that came said they would come back again as they found it really useful”. 

We spoke to Sonny after the event to find out more about it, including what inspired him to organise it and what his plans are for the future. 

Q: What inspired you to start organise the Local Meet Up in your area? 

A: I moved to London a few years ago and was shocked at the lack of knowledge about coeliac disease in such a populated city. Having had the condition for over a decade, I wanted to help others, especially those who have been newly diagnosed. Bringing together a community that shares similar experiences, despite everyone's journey being different, is incredibly rewarding. Meet Ups can also help to spread vital awareness and help venues like restaurants to further their understanding of the condition and how they can help. 

Q: How did you initially reach out to potential attendees for the event? 

A: I used word of mouth and Coeliac UK provided posters that I could place around the Battersea area. Coeliac UK also sent out emails to their members in nearby postcodes, which helped massively.  

Additionally, I created my own social media account (@sonnythecoeliac on Instagram) to help spread awareness and build an online community. 

Organising the event was not without its challenges. I reached out to several cafés and coffee shops, but many were unable to accommodate the group due to being busy on Saturdays. Pizza Express, a Coeliac UK Gluten Free accredited venue, was happy to help once I explained the purpose of the Meet Up and the staff were amazing on the day. Some people ordered drinks, some stayed for food, and some simply came and enjoyed the chat. 

Q: Can you share more about the feedback you received from those who attended? 

A: The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Every attendee said they would return and that they learned something new. 

Q: What were your highlights from the event? 

A: One big highlight for me was feeling the sense of community and support within the group. A particularly poignant moment was hearing one young girl’s experience from primary school, where she was only fed potatoes for lunch because the school’s catering staff didn’t know how to cater for her.

Q: What are your goals for future Meet Ups? 

A: I’d love to try and offer different types of events, like a picnic in the park during the summer or evening drinks.  

Q: Do you have any tips for others looking to start similar Local Meet Ups in their area? 

A: I would recommend contacting Coeliac UK to understand what is needed from the host and venue. Finding a venue can be challenging, but once secured, it’s smooth sailing. Coeliac UK has been great at providing guidance and support. 

Q: What impact do you hope these Local Meet Ups will have on the local community? 

A: I hope these Meet Ups will make the local community feel safer when eating out, realise they are not alone, and feel part of an ever-growing community. Having coeliac disease can be isolating, but it doesn’t have to be. I'd also say to anyone who is looking to start a Local Meet Up, it’s 100% worth doing, so don’t be afraid to start! 

Celebrating Volunteers’ Week 

Volunteers like Sonny play a crucial role in supporting the gluten free community. Their dedication and passion help create spaces where individuals can share their experiences and get help and support. 

If you're interested in starting your own Local Meet Up or volunteering for Coeliac UK in another way, visit our website to find out more about how you can get involved here.  

You can also find the list of Gluten Free accredited venues here

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