Eileen on volunteering
Eileen Mitchell was diagnosed with coeliac disease 13 years ago has been volunteering for Coeliac UK over the last eight years. Eileen is the Group Organiser of the Dorchester Local Group and a Health Campaigner for the Charity.
I began attending Group meetings in Dorchester following my diagnosis knowing absolutely nothing about the condition.
I recall a local hospital consultant talking to the Group and was so enlightened I felt more confident about my situation. I was still working and could only attend weekend meetings, where I often helped either with washing up, handing out free samples or selling raffle tickets but I then volunteered to become a local contact for those newly diagnosed.
Eight years ago, having retired, I joined the Dorchester Local Group as a Committee Member.
I found my background in health and social care had transferable skills and concentrated on helping with posters, endeavouring to secure raffle prizes from local establishments and generally assisting with group meetings. Two years later I reluctantly took on the secretary’s role and due to my contacts in the NHS felt able to widen our remit of raising awareness with clinicians, particularly dietitian’s.
As a Patient and Public Experience Representative on the Clinical Audit Committee at my local hospital I was also in a better position to lobby specialists in dietetics, endoscopy and gastroenterology. This led to raising our profile and subsequently when I became Group Organiser two years ago I started to introduce the idea of evening medical lectures. The members really seemed to appreciate these, as attendance was high and with more diverse attendees, who normally were unable or unwilling to attend other activities. I think as a Group we have accepted we need to try different things as ‘one size doesn’t necessarily fit all’.
Our Committee Members are a real team and we plan and deliver a wide range of activities to support people with coeliac disease.
This includes quiz nights, pub skittles, afternoon teas, Open Garden days, cooking demo’s, Xmas lunches, expert panel events and a tour and tea to a local Historic House and Gardens. I produce the newsletter (aided by the secretary who livens it up with graphics) and make posters which I send to the media, health professionals and companies. Our Membership secretary has the more difficult job of maintaining our records and sending all our Members the newsletter via email or post. Between us the committee plan and make room bookings, while I organise speakers. I regularly attend Voluntary Group events with another committee member in order to raise awareness generally about our work, particularly in relation to campaigning to enable people to receive a diagnosis earlier than the average 13 years which we find totally unacceptable.
This year I have been busy securing funds from other voluntary organisations which enabled us to purchase a projector and screen and publish our very own information leaflet, of which we are justly proud! I am addressing groups like the WI, NHS Retirement Fellowship, Cancer Support Groups and have secured an invitation to talk at GP Practices. These talks raise a small amount of revenue. My latest foray into campaigning has been to discuss with a Consultant Orthodontist regarding enamel defects and mouth ulcers. Working closely with the local Diabetes UK Group is also paying dividends as they are now looking to screen anyone with type 1 diabetes in line with the NICE Guidelines. We are looking to have a joint event, further cementing our close links.
I would recommend volunteering to anyone who enjoys meeting people and having fun. My husband has even joined the group now realising ‘if you can’t beat them join them!’ Although the message we are putting across is serious, on a social level there is nothing like it.
Interested in getting involved?
If you are interested in being a Committee Member or volunteering for your Local Voluntary Support Group, please get in touch with your Local Group, or alternatively email the Volunteering Team at firstname.lastname@example.org.