Will Berard was diagnosed with MS six years ago. After finding the MS Trust's resources useful, he decided to volunteer some of his time to help them develop their podcasts. We grab 15 minutes with him, to find out why he decided to get involved.
15 minutes with volunteer Will Berard
2 December 2021
Can you tell us about yourself? Before the pandemic you were a stand-up comedian, is that right?
You flatter me. I occasionally performed a bit of standup, but by day I was a software engineer. I'm now training as a computing teacher, which bridges the gap between the tech side and whatever urge was pushing me to the stage to lecture people under the pretence of telling jokes. My sets were always very educational. Preachy, even, at times. Even when I wasn’t talking about MS, I had riffs on Buddhism, maths and IT.
Can you tell us a little about when you were diagnosed? How did this impact on your career?
I was diagnosed six years ago. The impact on my career was slow and insidious. I was on the lookout for anxiety, depression (Anx and Dep - the lesser known, much less entertaining duo)and cognitive fatigue which crept up on me – it was those that id my IT career in in the end. Or certainly caused me to take an open-ended break from it. After a couple of years percolating, the diagnosis precipitated a rather clichéd mid-life reinvention: hammering home the frailty of the flesh, the inevitability of mortality inspired me to do something more meaningful. So, I link the teaching conversion squarely to the diagnosis. But with a squiggly line.
What made you want to volunteer for the MS Trust?
Power, money, influence, the lifestyle. Obviously. Seriously though, I think my very first involvement was the symptoms challenge – I heard about it in Open Door and I submitted a video of a 5-minute bit of stand-up on MS fatigue. I was also signed up to the MS Trust mailing lists and newsletters before starting volunteering. I recall the Trust coming out on top when I went through all the materials I collected at my MS unit – all the helpful booklets. The information mission of the Trust really resonated with me.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of volunteering with the MS Trust?
To do it, of course – what I like about it is that the MS Trust is a small enough entity that the link you get with the charity, as a volunteer, feels more personal. Now I’ve been working very closely with some of the team, but even before that, there is always a personal touch, which is nice.
What's the most challenging thing about volunteering?
I’ve ended up doing a huge amount of volunteering, in various capacities, for various charities, MS and not, during the course of my career break. Coming from the private sector, the first thing I noticed was the inefficiencies, especially when you put several volunteers together, because no one feels they have the authority. I was hoping I could say “I have these skills” and someone would give me something to do, but in volunteering, it doesn’t work like that, it has to come from you. Which, with the MS Trust, I eventually did – offering the Ask The Expert podcast, and then that started a collaborative process.
You’ve helped the MS Trust with eight podcasts over the last few months. How has that been for you?
It was fun. I trained as a sound engineer in my misspent youth, and have always kept a love for tinkering with sound – musical or not. It’s always been a hobby and – like the comedy – I always meant to keep it that way, because I’m a dilettante at heart, and if I never actually try anything ‘for real’ then I can’t ‘really’ fail. When the pandemic hit, stand-up comedy as we knew it disappeared overnight. I was keen to lend my skillset to a larger, more meaningful project. In the spirit of getting the ball rolling, I sought permission to re-purpose some video content of the MS Trust’s in
audio format. This became the Ask The Expert series, which was then enough for me to get the gig of producer on the podcast – editing, mixing and mastering it. Even as a person with MS and an MS Trust volunteer, there’s a whole side of the MS Trust I did not see or know about. So I floated the idea of a Meet the MS Trust series with interviews with the team, so everyone could hear a bit more about the people behind the scenes and what they do. Most of the recording has been done, some have already come out, and I hope to be able to find the time to put them together over the course of this autumn.
Who were your favourite guests to interview and why?
I had a great time with all of them. Obviously. Simon and Janice from the information team stand out, because it was the only timeI had two guests on the call. There was a nice dynamic there – and they are my kind of information and research nerds, I’m sure they won’t mind me saying! However, the most interesting were on the health professional side, with Megan and Laura – this is exactly the kind of information that’s a bit hidden from people with MS, which is a shame, because the MS Trust does so much fantastic work, it deserves to be publicised!