"It’s good to hear people’s stories about what our services mean to them"

05 April 2019
Northern Ireland volunteers together at a table.

Debbie Mairs has worked for Versus Arthritis for 13 years.

Her role as nations administrator in Northern Ireland involves making sure our processes and procedures meet the needs of the Service Admin teams.  She’s also involved in community fundraising and looking after the social media and content for Northern Ireland.

Here she tells us more about the services in Northern Ireland and why our volunteers make all the difference.

How many active volunteers do we have in Northern Ireland?

Currently we have about 120-150 active volunteers. They get 2-4 days training when they are first recruited and then more annual training during their time working with us.

It’s been great to hear their feedback about Versus Arthritis, they're behind what we stand for and feel part of a movement.

From the volunteers in our branches to the helpline, everyone wants to spread the word. There are people here to help on those bad days. If you live with arthritis, you are not alone

Tell us more about the different services available?

Information hubs

Our information hubs are often the first point of contact the public have with us. They're a gateway to refer individuals into our wonderful branch group and self-management services.

Here's a taster of feedback from people who’ve used the service.

'Mark' had never come into contact with us prior to his meeting with the volunteers at the Hub. He admitted he never would've gone had it not been for the time the volunteer had taken in understanding how well he was managing his pain (or not as the case was).

He came back to see us at the Information Hub to thank us for listening and making the referral as participating in the course was “the best thing I’ve ever done”. He was so impressed by the range of services and was so grateful to the volunteer for helping him reach out in the first place.

Our hubs are located at various places from health centres to outpatient clinics. Their purpose is to tell the public what support we can offer and we signpost them to the most appropriate for their needs.

Self-management sessions

We offer a peer support self-management courses (6 sessions, ½ a day a week). These are designed to complement what people may get from the health service.

The sessions are focussed on what you can do to help yourself in everyday life from learning about diet, exercise, mental health and goal setting. These can be anything from talking about how you feel, starting a hobby or learning how to ask for help.

The sessions are delivered by two volunteer trainers who live with long term pain or have an MSK health condition. The aim is to give people the tools to enrich their quality of life.

Staying Connected in Later Life service

Our Staying Connected in Later Life is a befriending service for the over 60s.

When people live with a chronic condition like arthritis, they can feel isolated and lonely. Also, they may be unable or not comfortable with coming to a course in a group setting.

With this service a volunteer will visit you in your own home for an hour over an 8-week period. The aim is to help empower people and show them that small changes can make all the difference.

"You are really taking them on that journey and helping to give them their social life back."

Telephone outreach

We found that people wanted support services, but they were under 60 or they could not get to courses in the daytime. Our telephone service offers more flexibility and a volunteer will ring the person at a time to suit them. The structured call covers similar topics to those we go through on the course to give people tools to help themselves.

Support group for parents with children with arthritis

We run a support group called Jointz to help support parents from diagnosis to signposting to services. There’s only one Paediatric department in Northern Ireland which is in Belfast and everyone will meet Cath. She’ll tell people about us and how we can help.

How do you support young people?


We offer events for young people which are activity based as many kids may not have been able to take part in certain activities. They get to do things like abseiling and rock climbing. The types of activities they thought they could ever do with their arthritis.

There are around 600 children with arthritis in Northern Ireland and so they may not have ever met others like them.

“These residentials offer them a safe space. Their parents are not there, and they can have open conversations with others like them."


We run self-management events to help young people prepare for adult life. Adulting with arthritis is a new event we're running on 6 April for young people with arthritis (18-25 age group). It will involve speakers, practical sessions for young adults from alcohol – can I drink on medication, can I get a tattoo, going to university and managing relationships.

Why I volunteer…

We wanted to celebrate and share some of the many voices of our volunteers here on why they give their time.

And, we wanted to say a massive thank you for helping us make our Versus Arthritis services what they are.

“I volunteer due to my own circumstances and when I think back to when I was diagnosed, I feel my experiences can help other people. I know what they are going through, things other people might not understand I can empathise with.

It’s a two-way thing, I get out as much as I give in. Also, it has helped me understand my condition better by sharing experiences with others, so it’s a win, win for me.” 

“I really like that I can offer some help to people who suffer from arthritis. It’s also nice to share experiences with them as they and myself both know the pain, etc, that arthritis can cause…It’s a condition a lot of people don’t understand as a lot of the conditions and pain can’t be seen.”

“Attending the sessions allowed me to meet other people in a similar situation to myself and this led to me joining a local branch in Coleraine. Being a volunteer at the hospital hub gives me the opportunity to meet  more people. I can promote the work of Versus Arthritis and encourage them to attend a branch meeting or self-help course, as well as giving out relevant information leaflets.”

I encouraged a phone outreach beneficiary to stay positive, there were so many things that she could do as long as she paced herself, etc. She's now joined her local Versus Arthritis branch and a knitting group. I feel very proud that I played a small part in getting helping her…”