This World Arthritis Day we caught up with our Head of Strategy, Rich Flowerdew, to chat about how Scouting has supported since being diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis.

“A Scout smiles and whistles under all circumstances…”

Being diagnosed with ‘an old people’s’ chronic condition at 30 has certainly tested B-P thoughts on this.

How much do you know about rheumatoid arthritis? Almost 700,000 people in the UK suffer from this condition although it is often believed to be a condition that only affects elderly people. The truth is that anyone can develop rheumatoid arthritis – and each year, 31,000 people are newly diagnosed.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) occurs when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys cells throughout the body including your skin, eyes, but noticeably those that line joints, causing pain and swelling. Over time, this can damage the joint itself, as well as the surrounding cartilage and bone, meaning that movement becomes increasingly difficult.

It is a chronic condition, so there is no cure, but it does in some cases improve as a result of treatment. Most people who suffer from RA will be affected to varying degrees over many years – sufferers may have long periods where their condition is in ‘remission’, and then sudden flare-ups of pain and inflammation can occur.

Scouting has been a constant with me throughout my life, and it has helped me massively with the challenges that RA throws at you. The values that we all live by have shaped how I approached my condition and those challenges.

From the care that has been shown by colleagues, to the cooperation we utilise every day to make sure we get the best for our young people, right through to the belief that tomorrow will be easier for me.

Personally I like to be the expert and have all (or most) of the answers, which comes in handy when thinking about POR! So, I quickly turned to research to discover what RA is and came across a patient-focussed support organisation in the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (NRAS). They offer help, advice and guidance to those with RA and their families.

I found their materials extremely helpful and quickly joined as a member to receive updates and news.

It was not long after joining that I noticed they were looking for volunteers to support their work.in engaging with a Campaigns network in Wales. They needed a bit of help supporting members across the Nation through highlighting RA to Policymakers and others across Wales. Luckily, I had those skills from Scouting and a willingness to help others so, I offered my support to the Group, and became an Ambassador.

In June 2020, I was elected to the Board of Trustees for NRAS and again put the skills that Scouting gave me to good use. I had experience of good governance and knew I could use those skills elsewhere, as well as in Scouting.

I often speak about the importance of listening to, engaging with and shaping services for Young People. It’s something that I believe makes Scouting better for us all. Well that has come into great use as well as NRAS also supports children with a similar condition, Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA). They have just launched their Young Voices group to support their work in this area and it has been a huge privilege to work with this team in getting the voices of young people heard across the UK with RA or JIA.

From listening with empathy to knowing how to represent the voices of others, the skills and experiences that Scouting has given me have not only helped me manage and live with my RA but they have helped me give something back and hopefully make a difference!

“The most worthwhile thing is to try to put happiness into the lives of others”

For more information on NRAS please visit www.nras.org.uk or the JIA site at www.jia.org.uk