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Stuart at home

Volunteering gives me purpose

Stuart Wilson

Stuart has been part of the Nottingham Group's Coordinating Team since 2014. He shares the impact stopping work had on him following his diagnosis, and how volunteering has given him a sense of purpose. 

I was diagnosed with relapsing remitting MS in the summer of 2012. It came as quite a shock. My mum lived with the condition for many years prior to her passing away following cancer treatment in 2010. This, along with being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in that same year, meant a lot happened to me in the space of two and a half years!

At the time of my diagnosis, I was working as a trainee accountant. One of my MS symptoms was cramping pain in my hands, making it difficult for me to do things like hold a pen or type for any significant period of time on a keyboard. 

After an unsuccessful return to work, and following assessments for benefits, I spoke with the local job centre to try and find some work that I could do. I wasn’t going to just retire at the age of 30! I was told there was probably no paid work that would be suitable for me given the limitations caused by my MS. But volunteering was suggested as a way to keep myself active.

My parents actually met through volunteering back in the 70s. Both helping to run a sports club for the disabled called ‘The Panthers’. My brother and I were taken along as non-disabled helpers for many years, so volunteering was not something new to me.

The hardest thing for me about being diagnosed with MS was not learning to live with the condition itself, but the changes it caused in my life. From the age of 13 when I got a paper round, I’d always had a job, or been in education, up until the age of 29. When overnight it all suddenly stopped, I became very depressed. Volunteering gave me purpose again, which I’d lost when I was unable to return to work.

Joining my local group

At around the same time, I started attending get-togethers with the local MS Society group in Nottingham. Although the number of members was relatively small to start with, I enjoyed getting to meet other people who could understand my situation. Many had MS themselves, or were a friend or carer for someone who did.

I was asked to join the Nottingham Coordinating Team in 2014 and I'm now the last man standing from those who were in the team when I first joined. My official title is ‘Health and Safety Volunteer’, but I also run social get-togethers twice a month, along with organising Christmas and summer meals for local people with MS. 

I really enjoy my role as it involves a lot of interaction with other people living with MS. The get-togethers are a relaxed way for people to connect outside of a more formal/hospital setting. And MS isn’t the only thing we talk about! 

I’ve tried to help guide the group along whilst we looked for a new Group Coordinator (along with Lucy’s help from the Volunteer Support Team at the MS Society). I’ve also helped out with our newsletter, which keeps our members up to date. And I’ve provided support at information and awareness events.

Helping others has given me a sense of purpose again

As well as volunteering with the MS Society in Nottingham, I’m also a volunteer patient for the NHS, giving trainee doctors the chance to practice interacting with real patients. I also help to run ‘The Witness Service’ at Citizens Advice. This service is offered to people attending Magistrates or Crown Court as someone to assist them through the day, which can often be challenging and upsetting for the victims and witnesses.

Post COVID, the Nottingham Group had started to wind down with several long-term volunteers leaving. But with our new Group Coordinator on board and lots of eager helpers, hopefully we can push the group back towards the heights it’s been in previous years. 

If you’d like to give some time to support people with MS in Nottingham, please get in touch as I think you’ll find it very rewarding. I certainly have!