#TeamIronOverload have a blast, at the Balmoral Show in Belfast

This annual event attracted over 80,000 visitors across the four days, and that’s not including the sheep, horses, cows and of course, our very own Gene the bear, who incidentally found a happy new home (more on that later!).

The Balmoral Show celebrates agriculture in Northern Ireland and beyond, and their 153rd show was no exception with sheep shearing to show jumping, via some very impressive flyovers from the RAF Falcons, on display. Despite bringing our wellies and preparing to compete with pig farmers and tractor salesmen for attention, we were pleased to be housed in a fantastic spot, right at the entrance of the breezy but solidly indoor Eikon Village.

With thousands of attendees imminent, Izzy and Neil spent Tuesday afternoon setting up the stand ready to go for the grand unveiling bright & early on Wednesday morning.  

Day One

Seamus Cathy Volunteers Smiling

And a very warm welcome to our fantastic volunteers Seamus & Cathy who are not only the most friendly couple you are likely to meet, but also know everything there is to know about living with genetic haemochromatosis. Their generosity in sharing their expertise, humour and time with us at The Balmoral Show is hugely appreciated. Whilst Cathy was reassuring an older lady who was nervous about drawing blood for her genetic test, Seamus was busy sharing leaflets, knowledge and - more than likely - the odd joke, with a huge tent of cattle farmers.

Meanwhile, our ever-resourceful Chief Executive managed to swerve the lure of a new tractor long enough to discuss Haemochromatosis, its prevalence locally and how we can work together to improve diagnosis and treatment with none other than Health Minister Robin Swann MLA.

Day Two

Better late than never, I came to join Izzy, Neil, Seamus & Cathy for Thursday’s show and got speaking to a lovely family from Galway whose Aunt had been diagnosed last year but were struggling to get their GP to perform a genetic test for them. This story was one we were to hear repeated many times over during our visit, and as well as sending them off with some literature to explain the condition to the whole family we were also able to inform them of the charity’s own genetic testing service.

Not only that but we were also treated to a crash course in the ‘local lingo’ by our resident expert Seamus who briefed us on how to properly order a Guinness without being laughed out of the on-site bar. I have to apologise to Seamus for not using his wisdom and for sticking to the tea all day!

Day Three

Due to the arrival of our brand-new volunteer recruit Julie, and our fundraising aficionado Neil Irwin our #TeamIronOverload grew to a massive seven of us, just in time to help when it ramped up on the Friday. By this time, our Chief Exec had mastered his “hello-there-you-cannot-say-no-to-this-leaflet” swagger, and kept us on our toes giving out so many leaflets we needed a midday restock! Izzy was in her element, sharing advice and literature and saying with alarming regularity “I’ve never met so many people with the condition, it’s a bit staggering/alarming/reassuring” etc.

Whilst I was distracted, Gene also found himself charmed by three new friends who promised to take him home and give him lots of cuddles. After quite an emotional goodbye, off he went on his travels with his new family. Hopefully he is having a lovely time! We also waved goodbye Seamus and Cathy, who after three days of helping, certainly earned a peaceful trip home.  

Day Four

Slightly exhausted but full of hearty breakfast and buoyed up by the fantastic exchanges we’d had thus far, we headed in for our final day. Our first passers-by were a young couple, one of whom had been misdiagnosed with anemia initially before her Dad was diagnosed following liver problems. They were frustrated with how difficult it had been to get venesection, but went away armed with a number of our booklets and glad to have shared their story with people who understood. Despite missing out on the very fetching red cowboy hats the SPAR stand were giving out, we did our best to have one final push and were rewarded with so many more enquiries, stories and inquisitive people that it absolutely flew by. Much like the RAF Falcons Neil snuck out to see at the show!

Finally, an overdue thank you to Julie who made sure that we were hydrated whilst endlessly talking to attendees with a very welcome cup of tea. Not so grateful to her for the make-up stall tip, which cost me a small fortune!

The Impact

After getting back and doing some totting up, we are pleased to report that #TeamIronOverload spoke with over 200 people with genetic haemochromatosis and distributed over 2,000 leaflets and booklets to visitors at the Balmoral Show. Our stand was also featured by the Belfast Telegraph in a supplement distributed to over 150,000 NI residents.

Our presence at this show was so important. Whilst the research suggests that genetic hemochromatosis affects 1 in 113 people locally, our cross-community preventative health initiative in Derry-Londonderry seems to suggest the result could be far higher in some areas. Certainly, the 200+ conversations our staff and volunteers had with participants across the show not only helped to raise awareness, but also demonstrated the devastating impact the condition can have if left undiagnosed. Thank you to everyone who came to our stand to share their stories with us. To hear how hard you had to fight to get a diagnosis, or to recognise the heartbreak for those loved ones who didn’t manage it before it was too late – we are working everyday to improve awareness, diagnosis and access to treatment. 

Indeed, it was wonderful to see those representing Northern Ireland's Blood Transfusion Service who have recently responded to our requests to make it easier administratively for people with GH to become donors. If you're based in NI and would like further details of the new GH donor scheme, please contact our office.

We would like to make a final special mention to our fantastic fundraising volunteer Neil Irwin, who worked hard to raise the money to fund the show and travel costs back in 2019. Though Covid has meant that we’ve had to wait until late 2021 to attend the show, Neil not only joined us on the stand for two days, but also gave Izzy and Lucy a much-appreciated briefing on the bread-based cuisine of Belfast. Our first taste of fresh Veda bread will not be our last!

Following the success of this event, we're looking at events in 2022 in Scotland, England and Wales. If you're interested in volunteering to help run a stand or fundraising to help us do this, contact Elizabeth our Volunteering Manager.