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Speaking up for people with MS


Catherine started volunteering in 2015. She tells us about her journey to becoming the Northern Ireland (NI) Council Chair. And how speaking up for people living with MS has made her feel proud

Joining the NI Council

I've always been a person who likes to be useful and I enjoy meeting new people. In 2014, I represented my local MS Society group at an awards event which recognised the value and dedication of volunteer groups in the area. I was approached by an MS Society Council member who thought I'd be a good fit for the team.

When vacancies became available, I decided I had nothing to lose by applying. My youngest daughter was still under two years of age so I was worried about the time commitment. But my husband and family were very supportive. It also gave me a focus outside of motherhood and my career, something I'm very grateful for.

After one year as a Council member, I was nominated as Vice Chair which I did for one year. I then became Chair in 2016 and remained in post until 2021. The MS Society has rules about the length of time you can stay in post as a Chair or member of the Councils and I stayed until the very last day!

Read more about our national councils

Listening to the stories of people with MS spurred me on

For the most part, I chaired NI Council meetings and was their representative at quarterly MS Society Board meetings. I made sure the voices of people living with MS in Northern Ireland were heard and considered. I also attended events across the country, meeting people living with and affected by MS.

At times, the role was complicated and time consuming. But every time I met with people at events, listening to their stories always spurred me on. It's so important that the Board remember who the charity is here to help, so putting personal stories in front of them always focused the minds.

During the COVID-19 pandemic this was especially important as the MS Society had to shift the way they worked overnight. I wasn't scared of speaking up or challenging a decision I felt was the wrong one.

Sharing my personal experience to raise awareness

I'm proud of how I made sure all voices were heard. And I think raising awareness of MS is incredibly important. So I also shared my personal experience of living with MS with regional media.

I was always so humbled when people got in touch after those stories were published. People with MS often said it made them feel seen. Or people who didn't know about MS gained a better understanding.

I’ve made so many friends through volunteering

I met some amazing people in my seven years as a NI Council member. I’m privileged to now count many of them as my friends. Every single one of them gave their time freely and without complaint. The work they did, and continue to do, is wide-ranging. But everything they do is for the good of people living with or affected by MS. Their voices and experience help shape policies and develop services. This is vital so the MS community are at the heart of the MS Society's work.

Although my time with the Council has come to an end, I’m still volunteering! I now run a monthly café meet-up in my home city of Derry. It's growing every month, and everyone enjoys the chance to chat and catch up with other people living with MS.

I think volunteering has made me even more empathic than I already am

It's incredibly rewarding to know I'm helping other people. There's no better feeling than a text or email from someone saying "I don't feel so alone anymore." No one should have to face MS alone - we're all in this together. Reaching out a hand of friendship will never be a bad move.

The MS Society has so many roles available for anyone thinking of volunteering so you'll always find something you'll enjoy. Give it a go, have an open mind and I've no doubt you'll enjoy it!

We’re currently looking for people to join our four National Councils, in Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland and England.

Read about our Council vacancies