Category: UK

Post relating to the British Red Cross in the United Kingdom

Happy 140th birthday, British Red Cross


What, and you didn’t even get us cake? That’s right, the fine charitable organisation for whom I plough my daily toil this week celebrates its 140th anniversary.

And, it should be said, for an institution that’s just turned seven-score years old, the British Red Cross isn’t at all in bad nick. Far from being a bit toothless, achey around the joints and in gradual decline, the old trooper is in the first bloom of health – helping people both here and all across the world, advocating on worthy causes and seeing volunteer numbers rise steadily.

If you want to find out more about the Red Cross’ history, just check out our photo galleries, blogs, podcasts and historical factsheets. It’s been a long, eventful life so far and there’s a fascinating story to tell.

Plenty has changed, mind. For example, we now have a much broader range of services that are craftily tailored to help all kinds of specific people and needs. So besides the old staples – step forward, first aid and emergency response – we also have more recent additions such as our refugee and skin camouflage services.

Equally impressive, those old, ever-so-slightly-formal Red Cross uniforms have now given way to a swanky new range of casual wear which, for my money, makes our volunteers look just a teeny wee bit like extras from the Eighties Star Trek films. It’s the Red Cross, Jim, but not as we know it.

Still, in the most important way, nothing’s really changed at all. After all this time, the British Red Cross is still all about helping vulnerable people when they need our help, whoever and wherever they are. Here’s to the next 140 years!

Kapow! Do you know a superhero?


Life’s tough for superheroes. All that thankless do-goodery must get exhausting after a while. And what about the costumes? The masks are sweaty, underpants as overpants is never a good look, and those spandex tights must chafe something rotten on one’s unmentionables.

Still not convinced? Just think, then, of the misery endured by even the greats. Spiderman is hated and misunderstood by most of the public. Superman spends most of his day pretending to be a geek. Captain America’s costume is just embarrassing.

And yet, as proved by the Red Cross Humanitarian Citizen Awards over the past four years, it turns out that – despite the odds – the UK is still chock-full of heroes. (Albeit not ones in costume; it must be the chafing thing).

Our annual awards celebrate the young people – whether lone heroes or super groups – who go that extra mile to help others. There are four categories to choose from: first aid, volunteering, community action and fundraising.

If you know of a young hero or heroes (masks and tights are optional, remember) who you think deserves recognition, nominate someone today. It only takes a couple of minutes and the closing date – Holy Mackerel!  Friday 23 July – is fast approaching.

First aiders flock to help at bike crash


first aid kitThe other day I came off my bike on the way to work. Luckily, as it was pretty embarrassing, I was on a deserted street in Bayswater. This also meant, crucially, that I didn’t get run over.

I was pedalling along happily one minute smiling in the sunshine, then suddenly on the road braking with one of my knees and toes. That minor – or so I thought – problem of clunky, jumping gears was the culprit. I had been standing up on the bike going at quite a pace, when the pedal suddenly dropped. This made me lose my footing and I found myself hopping along with one foot along the road trying to keep up with my speeding bike, with a sense of impending doom.

There wasn’t any serious damage – a deep graze and cuts, broken sandals, a mangled frame and quite a bit of oil and blood – but it was quite a shock. I lay there in the road shaking and promptly burst into tears. Within seconds a fellow cyclist pulled up and scrapped me off the road.

He helped me to the kerb and then touched my shoulder gently and said: “That looked like a nasty fall, are you okay?” For some reason this made me howl even more but I managed to grimace and reply: “” through the tears and rivers of make up sliding down my face.

After he was sure I was okay, he went on his way. Then a second good samaritan appeared, complete with first aid kit under his arm. He worked at a hotel nearby and had seen everything. He diligently first cleaned my wounds with water and tissues.

It turned out another casualty had got to the first aid kit before me so it was actually pretty threadbare but, as I learnt on my basic first aid skills course, you sometimes need to improvise. So instead of a large dressing, the man created a patchwork of small plasters over my knee wound, being careful not to get the sticky bits on the wound itself.  He spoke little English but I was touched by his thoroughness and tenderness towards a stranger.

I was just preparing to wheel my poor bike home, when a coach then stopped. The driver hopped out and also asked if I was okay. “Let me get some water and wipes to clean off that oil,” he offered, frowning at the state of my legs.

A couple of weeks later I am almost fully recovered, although everyone has been intrigued by the progress of my scab; my colleague Mark has taken to asking how my ‘beetroot crisp’ is.

First aid at Rockness


Once a year, the sleepy village of Dores on the shores of Loch Ness comes alive with the sound of music. And by that I don’t mean the musical.

Rockness is the Highland’s number one music festival, and for the fourth year running I found myself back in that grassy field taking in the sights, smells and sounds of the Highland fling. The drunken crowds staggering across the hillside, dressed in all sorts of outfits ranging from the punk rockers with flowers in their hair to the individuals who feel clothes are hardly necessary at all. The smell of beer, mud, and the unthinkable all mixed together amidst the grass. The banging tunes which pounded the countryside and pulsated through the ground, like a heavy bass heartbeat. I’m pretty sure that Nessie has her own rave party every June; those vibes probably spread far enough to ripple the Loch’s darkest depths.

For me, Rockness not only brings out my inner raver; it is also a tad nostalgic. It brings back the fond memories of my first ever duty, which was indeed Rockness. Talk about being thrown in at the deep end without the ability to swim. Of course, back in the day it was filling out patient report forms before rushing off to watch the final acts. This year, as it has been for the past couple of years, it’s been hard work and first aid all night long…

…Ok, who am I kidding, I’ve always been lucky enough to catch some of the last acts too. But no more hiding behind those forms.

This year I even had a shot at being team leader during Friday’s day shift. Which, to be fair, wasn’t as terrifying as I thought it would be.

So what sort of casualties did we face? Out cold and drunk? Collapses in the middle of the crowd? Fight victims with blood pouring from wounds, or breaks, sprains, or even spinals?

Um, no. Amazingly, the array of casualties myself and my fellow team mates treated this year were nowhere near as exciting as the above scenarios; examples of what we came across in previous years.

In fact, this year we had more blisters and cut fingers than anything else. Clearly rubbing welly-boots and caterers slicing their fingers open on sharp knives was the in-thing, as opposed to the dreaded unconscious call-out or worse.

Some teams were called out to unresponsive casualties; the grab team was kept busy on a number of occasions. But otherwise our work was minimal. Which is great – it makes a nice change, particularly at a larger duty. Although it can make the time spent at a first aid post pass that little bit slower.

Anyway, it seems that our festival punters kept themselves that bit safer this year (despite the new temptations of two very high fairground rides). This was a major plus as this meant no deaths.

First aiders un point; the Grim nul point =]

So, while Rockness this year was, for us, a tad quieter  than usual, the festival was a success for those who came for the booze and live bands. Even if the weather wasn’t quite up to standard – the usual scorching sunshine skipped Friday and Sunday morning. In fact, Sunday saw Rockness turn into Mudness as the churned-up ground became thick with fresh Highland rain and beer. Not that this killed anybody’s fun, particularly in the campsites where the ground was particularly slushy.

All I can say is thank goodness for waterproofs.

Another stint at Rockness over and done with. Four years worth of festival experience tucked snugly under the boiler-suit belt (with another ear-full of loud and proud tunes). I wonder if I can go for a fifth year of festival first aiding?

Preparing for the Great North Run


One of our very own bloggers, Heron Holloway, is taking part in the Great North Run in September for the second time, but this time round her whole family’s taking part! I talked to her to find out why and how it’s all been going.

What made you decide to take part in the Great North Run?

I’m originally from the north east and it’s a beautiful part of the UK so I take every opportunity to visit – even if it means having to run 13.1miles! If you’ve never been, the Great North Run is a great excuse to go – climbing the steps to the top of Durham Cathedral the day before the run would make a great warm up.

Who are you doing it with?

I’m doing the Great North Run with my whole family – so it will be my brother, sister, Mum, Dad and me. I seriously doubt that all five of us will stick together for the whole thing, but let’s see.

At the moment we are in deep discussion about whether we are going to do the whole thing in joint themed outfits – each of us a different superhero, all dressed as the Von Trapps or something. Any suggestions gratefully received!

Have you done anything like this before?

My Dad and I did the same run in 2005 but I feel a bit of a fraud claiming to have ‘run’ as we basically walked the entire thing. Dad wanted to do something to recognise his 60th birthday and thought the Great North Run was just the thing! However, he had to do a lot of travelling in the months before and consequently did almost no training. We decided to stick together for the whole thing and so only made it to the finish in 4 hours and 8 minutes – I use Dad as my excuse for why I didn’t do it any quicker but I really wonder if I could have done it at all without him!

I am determined to give it a better shot this time around, and hoping to shave at least an hour off my time from 2005. There is such a brilliant atmosphere on the route – every time you come round a corner there is another live band playing fantastic music, instantly boosting your energy levels.

Last time I wore a t-shirt that had a big arrow pointing towards my Dad with the caption ‘That’s my Dad’, and so the crowds kept shouting out ‘Come on Dad’ which he found very motivating!!

How have you been preparing?

I’d say that I started training in earnest about two weeks ago, although I joined the gym about a month ago. I have a gym training regime to boost overall fitness levels, and I run on the streets near my house in west London twice or thrice a week. I have downloaded a training schedule from the Great Run website which takes me from zero experience to, hopefully, completing the Great North Run in about 3 hours in September.

I’ve never been a runner or particularly sporty so all this exercise is really quite a new experience for me. I found it quite tough at first but now I am enjoying it as I feel my body finding things easier.  My next plan is to put together a good play list for when I go running.

It also helps that the sun has finally come out and so I have the added encouragement of wanting to look toned in tiny summer clothes!

What fundraising are you doing?

My fundraising so far has only involved planting the seeds of the idea in the minds of friends and family, so I haven’t collected any hard cash notes yet but that will come soon. I have various plans afoot that I will put into action a little nearer to the date – for example, I am organising a ‘bake off’ between two of my friends to see who can make the best dessert, with other friends paying to be judges and sample all the produce.

Any top tips for other fundraisers?

Don’t get caught up trying to do something wacky or exotic as a fundraising event. Often the ‘run of the mill’ ideas work best – have a bake sale, put on a car wash or do some babysitting. It’s much better to do lots of little things, rather than waiting for some big idea and leaving it all to the last minute. If you are stuck for fundraising ideas, give the British Red Cross a ring to help you out.

And finally, why did you choose the Red Cross?

Obviously I am biased because I work for the British Red Cross, but it is a fantastic organisation. Working as part of the press team and therefore being on-call and responding to media enquiries when an emergency strikes, you really are reminded every time that the Red Cross or Red Crescent are always there at the sharp end, helping those affected by emergencies.

The media always ring us when a disaster strikes as they know the Red Cross will be there responding so we can often give them first hand accounts of the scale of the disaster before anyone else.

Without getting really schmultzy, it really feels great to be part of the Red Cross family.

Sign up for the Great North Run today

It's sew easy to fundraise


British Red Cross volunteers are a talented bunch. Not content with taking sponsored baked bean bathsskydiving and shaking buckets in the name of fundraising, one group of nimble-fingered ladies recently won a national award for a stunning quilt they made and then raffled.

The quilting trio (Caryl Larkins, Marion Topp and Catherine Millar), called ‘Fusion’, from Somerset, toiled all winter to make the quilt, with each member making four tiles each. To help with the design, they even enlisted the help of an artist – Tim Millar – Catherine’s son.

Their efforts were rewarded with first prize in the charity group section of the Quilts UK 2010 Competition, in May.

The resulting William Morris-inspired quilt was won by Red Cross trustee Sue Brown (pictured, with Marion), and raised more than £1,000 towards 12 workshops the Red Cross is holding in the county later this year. As well as training people in first aid, the workshops will encourage communities to make plans for how they would cope in an emergency.

Marion said: “We’re thrilled to bits because last year we won a second and third prize in the group quilts but this is our first ever first.” It would be difficult to calculate how many quilts all the members of Fusion have made altogether, she confessed. She alone has been quilting for 12 years and has made a whopping 30.

What winning fundraising ideas do you have?

Refugees: truth behind the headlines


Asylum seekers get cash handouts

Refugees ‘flood’ Britain for new homes

Send migrant scroungers home now

Do these sound familiar? They should: they’re all actual recent British newspaper headlines. For years now, the British media has been giving a largely negative press to those who come to the UK seeking shelter from overseas. The net result is that the terms ‘refugee’, ‘asylum seeker’ and ‘migrant’ are banded about willy-nilly and – in the eyes of the UK public, at least – have become largely inter-changeable.

This is palpably a nonsense. It makes as much sense as, say, banding together plumbers, carpenters and electricians as a single entity. True, they all do household improvement work, but you’d hardly call out a sparky to fix your blocked toilet. (And if you did, I hope you’d remember to stand well back as he approached the cistern with a live cable.) In the same way, there’s a world of difference between supposed refugee labels.

Still, I appreciate that understanding so many labels can be a headache, so here’s my idiot-proof, short and sweet guide:

Asylum seeker
A person who has left their country of origin and formally applied for asylum in another country but whose application has not yet been decided.

Someone whose asylum application has been successful and who is allowed to stay in the UK having proved they would face persecution back home.

Refused asylum seeker
A person whose asylum application has failed and who has no other protection claim awaiting a decision.

Illegal immigrant
Someone whose entry into or presence in a country contravenes immigration laws.

Economic migrant
Someone who has moved to another country to work.

Each year, thousands of new arrivals and rejected asylum seekers in the UK find themselves destitute and in a hopeless limbo situation – cut off from government support and yet unable to return home for fear of persecution. (You can check out the recent excellent Guardian article on this issue.) That’s generally when the Red Cross steps in to help, but the negative headlines don’t make our work any easier.

We’ve just produced a new video highlighting this vulnerable group’s daily struggle for survival, and a powerful report – titled Not gone, but forgotten – highlighting the dire hardships destitute asylum seekers face and the urgent need for a more humane asylum system.

Please, check them both out and forward them on.

The urgent need for a more humane asylum system


The British Red Cross is supporting an increasing number of refused asylum seekers in the UK who find themselves destitute. As a leading humanitarian organisation we believe that we have a responsibility to respond to their specific needs in times of crisis. Many of these asylum seekers come to us as a last resort, having exhausted all alternatives, with nowhere else to turn.

In the report below, we focus on the humanitarian situation facing refused asylum seekers who remain in the UK, and make recommendations on how to develop a more humane asylum system, which is so urgently needed.

Not gone but forgotten: The urgent need for a more humane asylum system

Also read: The asylum seekers who survive on £10 a week – a special Guardian investigation into the asylum system and destitution in the UK.

British Red Cross refugee services in the UK