Woman holds a sign reading I love Manchester

Photo credit: Xinhua/Han Yan: Alamy

“Last Monday night, my mum texted me knowing that I was on shift,” said Amy Weston, a Red Cross emergency response volunteer.

“Something’s happened at the MEN [Manchester Arena].’

“I ended up ringing the person who was managing our volunteer shift that night. She said ‘you just need to stop, to chill out, get some rest and get ready just in case.”

The Red Cross works alongside the emergency services, councils and other voluntary sector partners in emergencies. The next day, the local authority asked the Red Cross to support the response efforts.

“On the way to work the next day, I got a call saying we’re going to need some support today, we’re opening up at the Etihad,” Amy said.

Emotional support in a difficult situation

Amy Weston, a volunteer in Manchester, sits in a room

Amy Weston, © British Red Cross/Rebecca Gilbert

Amy is one of dozens of volunteers who supported emergency services in the aftermath of the bombing at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester.

Our help ranged from providing ambulance support to offering practical and emotional support.

Red Cross emergency response volunteers are trained to provide a wide range of support to people during and after an emergency.

“Our role is to reassure and support people, following a crisis,” said Simon Lewis, head of our crisis response team.

“Whether that’s providing a listening ear or giving them shelter, our volunteers are trained to help.”

Amy and a fellow volunteer Sue Lewis, who is a project manager at the Red Cross, were part of a small team supporting families at the Etihad stadium. Many families were taken there to wait for news of their loved ones.

“When I got there, it was very quiet but very loud at the same time,” Amy said. “It was a complete different world when you walked in there. You could feel the emotion coming out of people.”

Sue said, “Being Manchester born and bred, I don’t know why that makes a difference but I guess it feels closer than other things.”

Like Amy, Sue responded immediately to the needs and emotions of the people who needed support.

‘Incredible’ support

Sue Lewis, a Red Cross volunteer who supported families in Manchester, sits on a garden bench

Sue Lewis, © British Red Cross/Rebecca Gilbert

“Actually, the role that we found was around the family members who were supporting those most affected,” Sue said.

“The direct family members were closely monitored and supported by the services, such as the police and bereavement nurses, who were just incredible.

“It sounds ridiculous to say something so positive, but it was quite awe inspiring watching the professionals do what they do in that environment. And to be a part of that, the weight of the responsibility hit.”

Amy added: “It was a case of just going around ‘did they need any food, did they need a drink’ and asking if people were OK.

“Obviously they weren’t OK, but could I do anything to make it easier, could I do anything to make them more comfortable, did they need a blanket, did they need a phone charger?

“If there was anything I could do to help, even the slightest little thing, I was there to do that.”

The support to the families lasted for a day, until they had news and could move on and receive further support elsewhere.

Happiness box: a little help to unwind

“I feel incredibly privileged to be a part of what happened,” Amy said.

“I’ve had people coming up to me that I’ve known for years, or maybe I’ve never met in my life before, asking how they can help.”

It is also important for volunteers to support themselves after being there for other people at a time like this.

“In terms of looking after yourself, it’s about knowing the way that you respond to things and the way that you process things,” Sue said.

The Saturday after the attack, Sue did some volunteer fundraising for the We Love Manchester Fund. “It feels really good doing something positive with lots of other people,” she said.

Amy has a unique way to support herself, a happiness box she made.

“I have a box of happiness and it’s got chocolate, sweets, pictures, little messages from my friends, stuff like that, in this box,” she said. “I open the box and it makes me feel a little better.”