Why I volunteer... Allison’s story

Allison and her mum at the Queen's Garden party.

Allison has been a volunteer at the Versus Arthritis Gateshead branch for over 20 years and continually goes above and beyond for the branch. With her help, the Gateshead branch reaches out to hundreds of people with arthritis from the wider North East area every year. Find out what services are available in your area.

Thanks to volunteers like Allison, we can help to provide support and advice to people with arthritis. From exercise classes, fundraising events to meeting up for a chat over coffee – all of this is so important.

We chatted to Allison to find out why she's passionate about volunteering and how it felt to attend the Queen’s Garden Party at Buckingham Palace. She was nominated to attend for her ongoing dedication to volunteering.

How did you start volunteering for Versus Arthritis?

I've been volunteering for almost 20 years for Versus Arthritis! I first got involved through a friend who ran the Lambert branch. She’d asked me to help push wheelchairs on a holiday break and I was so humbled by the experience, I joined the Gateshead branch. I just get so much out of it.

It's personal too as arthritis is in my family. My mum has it and my gran had it. I’ve had osteoarthritis of the knee and hip for about 10 years and I have inflammatory arthritis in my hands.

I even met my husband through volunteering!

What activities does the Gateshead branch offer?

We have a mix of activities and we’re always looking for new services to keep us relevant to what people with arthritis want.

There’s a bit of everything from local walks, exercise classes, a coffee drop in group, advice sessions with healthcare professionals and hydrotherapy swimming sessions groups for men and women.

‘With the hydrotherapy people can enjoy time in a warm pool and there’s a café where you can have something to eat and drink. The men’s group has been bonding well and that’s great to see.’

Allison

We have about 120 registered members and some people come everything, and others dip in and out. We want to be accessible and for everyone to get what they need from the group.

Allison and a group at the Gateshead branch.

The monthly healthcare talks are useful and I always learn something new. For example, from an occupational therapist talk I found out about these bed blocks that help you get out of bed. I Googled them and found out where you get them from and a few of us ordered them.

What do you love about volunteering?

It's helping others to change their life for the better.

‘It doesn’t matter if it is the tiniest help or the biggest help, if it’s enough to make a difference to that person's life…’

Allison

It works both ways as I have made so many good friends from volunteering, they’ve supported me and I have supported them.

For example, one lady is waiting for spinal surgery and we text each other every other day. It’s important to stay in touch and to know someone is thinking about you.

‘Everyone is either someone's grandparent, parent, brother or sister…helping each other, it’s what you would do for family, it is all the same.'

Allison

My husband has had some very serious health problems and it’s been unbelievable the support I’ve had from the group. From phone calls, text and messages on Facebook – we’re like a big family.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking of volunteering?

Go ahead, do it. It’s a good feeling to help people change their life and you’ll get so much out of it.

Finally…how was the Queen’s garden party?

I am never known to be speechless, but I was. Why me? I didn’t think it was real.

It was so exciting; I took my mum which was lovely. I had to decide what to wear and plan the trip to the hotel. We met some fascinating and lovely people as we waited to go in and got to ride on a golf buggy to the tea tent!

I had to pinch myself, was I really in Buckingham Palace?? We were treated like royalty; the staff were amazing, and we got a tour of the ground floor of the palace. There was a band playing outside and we enjoyed ice-cream in the sunshine. We did get a quick glimpse of Charles, Camilla and Anne.

In years to come I want to show my granddaughter the photos and tell her about the amazing day we had. My mum was ecstatic and very happy for me - and so proud.

‘You don't do volunteering for rewards. To know you’ve been appreciated and to be given the chance to do something which is a chance in a lifetime – I was so humbled.’

Allison