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Support Group Spotlight - Birmingham & West Midlands

11th February 2016

We asked our Birmingham and West Midlands support group leaders, Marie and Hayley to tell us more about the group.......

How long has the Birmingham and West Midlands support group being going?

Marie: Iím not sure exactly when it started Ė Iíve been attending for around 4-5 years and taken on a lead role around 6 months ago.

Hayley: The group feels like it's been there for a long time with the lovely friendships that have been formed. I was welcomed in 2 years ago after moving from Wales and feeling lost about my alopecia.

How often does the group meet?

We meet 6 times a year. 

Why did you decide to become a support group leader?

Marie: The previous leader, Jen, was stepping down and I put my name forward to take on the group. Iím a pretty organised person and think itís really important for the group to exist for people that arenít sure how to deal with their alopecia and need support from others. I wanted to make sure the group didnít disappear when Jen stepped down.

Hayley: Jen also put my name forward to support Marie so between us we can always be there at meetings. The support group was key to my recovery mentally and my hair has grown back since. I love to help people feel supported and help them on their alopecia journey. 

Do you always meet in the same venue?

We vary our venues depending on what weíre doing and how busy it might be. Our current main venue is The Wellington Pub which is just out of the main shopping area in town. They provide us with a private room for our meetings. Although the Wellington is a pub, you don't have to walk in the actual pub but up a separate staircase to the room. It's a lovely place! We're more than happy to meet people outside if they feel uncomfortable walking in alone if they drop us an email before hand.

Other meetings places we use are Trendco (wig salon) and St Martinís Tea Room in the Bullring, where itís an open plan so more of a social meeting is held here.

All locations we are currently using are in Birmingham City Centre as itís easiest to access for most people, and can be combined with a day out if people want to.

And weíre always always open to suggestions for venues! 

What can people expect from a Birmingham and West Midlands support group meeting?

Marie: Numbers attending our meetings have varied from 6 to 26. To help people with availability for meetings weíve released all 2016 dates ahead of time so dates can be put in diaries. We have a range of ages that attend from teenagers up to ladies in their 70s. Some members bring along a friend or family and some attend on their own. Those attending have a variety of different types of alopecia, including alopecia areata, alopecia universalis and frontal fibrosing alopecia. All are welcome.

Hayley: We want everyone to get the most out of meetings. We sometimes offer activities for the group to get involved in. Sometimes we just chat and eat cake, which is very useful for newcomers. We once had a crafty session making 'Happy Jars', have arranged scarf tying tutorials and my favourite, a picnic for International Alopecia Day.

Weíd love some more men to join the group. It would be good to hear their experiences and get their input on the group activities.

What is the best thing about leading the Birmingham and West Midlands support group?

Marie: The best thing about leading the group is the positive feedback that the members give, especially new members who have been along to their first meeting and been able to bond with people in a similar situation. It feels great to be able to offer advice and support to those that need it and is hugely satisfying knowing that I can help others through my own experiences.

Hayley: I also love using my own experiences to help others. We've not been leading the Birmingham group for long so I'm looking forward to organising exciting outings and fun activities for meetings in the future. Helping people and making people happy is so rewarding.

What would you say to someone feeling nervous about attending a support group meeting for the first time?

Marie: Most people are nervous the first time they come along, but weíre all very welcoming and accepting. Thereís no pressure to say anything, if you want to come along and just listen, thatís fine with us. Talk as much or as little as you like. And if anyone is anxious, we are happy to pass on our numbers and meet them outside to walk in with them.

Hayley: Although we appear to be strangers, we all have something in common so we completely understand the journey you're going through. I remember my first time, I couldn't find the group as everyone was wearing wigs so I didnít know anyone had alopecia! I spotted an Alopecia UK leaflet on a table and asked the ladies if they were the alopecia support group! Imagine if they weren't! Luckily they were and were so lovely and welcoming. We're happy to meet people outside though as Marie said.

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