Interview with Tony Kelly, Diabetes Advocate6th November 2020
At the Unsung Hero Awards, we love being able to recognise the dedication and hard work of Non-Medical and Non-Clinical NHS staff and volunteers across the UK. But the UHA isn’t just an awards evening- it’s about sharing the stories of the those who go the extra mile to reach our communities, and champion individuals who make a real difference to our lives.
One of these individuals is Tony Kelly, who is a diabetes advocate. He has spent just over 8 years raising awareness about diabetes, as well as sharing his tips on how to manage the condition effectively.
Tony himself has Type 2 diabetes, which causes the level of sugar (glucose) in the blood to become too high. It can cause symptoms like excessive thirst and tiredness. It can also increase your risk of getting serious problems with your eyes, heart and nerves.
As Type 2 diabetes is hereditary, it was no great surprise to Tony when he was diagnosed. His family had long suffered with what they called ‘a touch of sugar’, which worried him. Due to his family history, Tony took a natural interest in diabetes, and has now raised the profile of the condition across a huge range of communities in the UK and beyond.
Tony took the time to catch up with us about his work, as well as sharing his advice on keeping healthy.
Did you decide to start raising awareness when you were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes yourself?
“No! A place I was working at 8 years ago wanted me to go to Wolverhampton, which at the time was the diabetes capital of the UK. This was for a book launch- Diabetic Diva by Susan Haynes-Elcock. Somebody [at the book launch] knew that I did a lot of training on equality and diversity, and that I also had my diabetes condition. That was the first time I had spoken about diabetes in a public setting, and how I manage it.
Diabetes UK were at the event, they asked me if I wanted to be trained and become a Diabetes UK Community Champion. My wife said I have the gift of the gab so I went for it and I’ve never looked back!
I’ve been to Canada and Dominica [to raise awareness about diabetes] and now I’m with NHS Birmingham and Solihull Clinical Commissioning Group to educate and raise awareness about eating healthily”.
What do you enjoy most about raising awareness about diabetes? Is it about making a difference to somebody?
“Yes. You’ve hit the nail on the head! That for me makes me feel good. Making a difference to people is important, very important. I think I’m getting there – I’m not blowing my own trumpet, but I get feedback from people telling me they like my approach”.
What would you say is your biggest achievement so far?
“I think it’s the whole concept of being able to pass on all this knowledge to so many people. In eight years of doing it, that is my biggest achievement in life – that I have been able to reach out to so many people, so many different communities…that for me is a major achievement. It’s nice to know that people appreciate me and value what I’m doing”.
If someone wanted to start to focus on healthy living more as a priority during lockdown, what would you suggest?”
“Simple things that keep your physical health ticking over, which also has a contribution to your mental health. If your physical health is doing well, it will follow through for your mental health as well. With the pandemic, there are a lot of people that are depressed and becoming suicidal…I say put on music, or go on long walks…anything that keeps your body moving!”
“Our health is our wealth. It’s up to us to try our best to make lifestyle changes. You might fall off the bicycle along the way, but you’re going to have to get yourself back up again and try. Don’t give up. If I can do it, so can you.”
When we come out of lockdown, what’s next for you?
“I’ll be back on the road, going to community centres, residential homes, nursing homes…at the moment, it’s nice that I’m able to sit in the comfort of my own home, but there’s nothing better than being able to interact with people face to face. I’m missing that!”
You’ll also be able to view the full video interview with Tony over the next coming weeks- be sure to keep your eyes peeled on our social channels!
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Youtube: @Unsung Hero Awards
Written by Sarah Catherine Jones | Creative Content Assistant