Category: Volunteering

First aider makes ice work of new skills

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first aid kitOur first aid volunteers often wonder when they happen to be passing by when accidents strike, whether they are in the right place at the right time or the right place at the wrong time. Whatever the answer, you never know when fate’s hand will place a needy person in your path.

For one brand new first aid volunteer, Kerry Roberts, 22, it was just moments after she had completed one of our first aid courses, in Manchester.

Kerry, from Warrington, had just left the course, and walked a couple of streets when she spotted a woman in her fifties who had slipped on the ice and fallen. She was unconscious. While a passerby called an ambulance, Kerry and another woman checked her breathing and cleared the casualty’s airway.

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Separated by snow: cancer sufferer reunited with blind husband

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emergency response volunteers in snowFor many of us the prolonged Arctic snap engulfing the country is inconvenient, especially for those caught up in travel chaos. But can you imagine what it’s like for a blind, diabetic, elderly man living in a remote village, whose house has no heating thanks to a prolonged power cut?

Carrie Metcalfe, one of our emergency response volunteers, has a good idea. The man in question was just one of many vulnerable people she’s been very busy helping in Lincolnshire throughout the recent bout of severe weather.

Carrie took vital provisions to the man, whose village was cut off by snowfall in early December. She recalled:

“The poor man had struggled through a three-day power cut. He had no heating, electricity or gas and needed food. Anita Moore, a fellow volunteer, and I gave him his first hot drink in three days.”

Meanwhile, the man’s wife, who has cancer, was in hospital in Nottingham where she was stuck following being discharged, unable to get home due to the weather.

“Anita and I – with the help of my 4×4 – managed to go and pick up the man’s wife from the hospital the next day.

“We had to do the conga down the drive through knee-deep snow to get her into the house, but it was worth it when the man and woman were finally reunited. They were very emotional, crying and holding each other. They’ve been married for 61 years, and up until now only ever spent two nights apart.

“It’s so rewarding to see the joy on people’s faces when they see  British Red Cross volunteers.  Even though we can’t fix everything, I feel we make a difference to people’s lives, which is why I love volunteering for the Red Cross.”

With the big freeze set to continue, make sure you’re prepared for bad weather.

Takeover day at the Red Cross

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Lizzie Laessing (25) is a home from hospital volunteer in Bristol who was recruited to take part in the Red Cross’ Takeover Day Event. Takeover Day is an initiative masterminded by The Children’s Commissioner to give young people across the country the chance to work alongside adults and get involved in decision-making.

Friday 12th November saw 13 young Red Cross volunteers taking over the roles of the senior management team at the head office in London – a hijack of the SMT meeting that normally happens once a month. It was a great chance to really get to grips with how the organisation is run and provide some feedback and ideas directly to the top! I had been given the role of our CEO, Sir Nick Young – slightly daunting, but I was looking forward to the challenge.

Image: Jonathan Banks/BRC

We met the day before with someone from human resources who gave us some invaluable tips on problem solving, presentation skills and, particularly for me as CEO, how to run a successful meeting.

Despite having never met each other before, the board members worked well together constructing towers of spaghetti and figuring out the best strategy to survive an emergency crash landing in the Antarctic with not much prospect of survival! Thankfully we had some experts in the group who were able to identify some of the pitfalls of our equipment…Having survived the crash we could see how we each contributed to the decision making process, and how we could work together during the meeting the following day.

After a nice meal and a not-so-peaceful night’s sleep – our accommodation was right next to St. Paul’s Cathedral, did you know the bells ring every 15 minutes? – we put on our senior management hats and headed for a day of hard work in the board room.

We had some really interesting presentations: a sneak preview of some marketing ideas for Red Cross Appeal Week in May 2011- our annual major fundraising drive (it’s going to be a good one, so get involved!); insight into recovery operations in Haiti (the largest single country deployment in Red Cross history!) and how the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies works with other agencies in these kind of situations; the role of young people in delivering our strategy; the Red100 conference for young volunteers and ways of obtaining the views of young people more easily. Probably our most interesting discussion was about how to make the Red Cross truly inclusive to all ages.

I had no idea how tiring chairing a meeting can be. Ensuring that everybody’s opinion has been sought and understood clearly is much harder than I thought it would be. Not much time to lose concentration or let your mind wander with thoughts on the information you’ve been presented with!

So thank you, British Red Cross and Sir Nick – I hope we’ve left the place intact!

Young first aid hero celebrated

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The British Red Cross Humanitarian Citizen Awards are all about recognising the good work undertaken by young people aged under 26 in the UK. This year more than 80 nominations were received for young people who have excelled across four categories – volunteering, community, fundraising and first aid.

Around 25 projects or individuals were invited to attend the awards ceremony held this year in October at the Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green, Central London.

Ross Pickthall took home the award for first aid. Here’s why:

In November 2009 severe floods swept across the North West of England with Cockermouth one of the areas worst hit. As a young British Red Cross emergency response volunteer, Ross helped some of the hundreds left temporarily homeless.

In May 2010, Ross was on board the Keswick school bus when it crashed killing three people. He helped the walking wounded and started to give first aid before the emergency services arrived. Just a month later and communities in Cumbria were again devastated when 12 people were killed by a gunman. Again Ross was part of the British Red Cross response to the shootings. In just a few months Ross showed that he had the willingness, confidence and ability to act to help those in need whoever or wherever they were.

Ross recounts the traumatic events that led him to have a profound appreciation for the contribution of young people to the work of Red Cross:

“I have been a British Red Cross volunteer for three years now and have taken part in many first aid duties and gained some valuable skills. Unfortunately, luck seemed to run out in Cumbria over the last 12 months leaving the Red Cross to help out with the floods in Cockermouth, the bus crash and the shootings. I think that this period of time has shown how vital first aid skills are for everyone, including young people. For me, being a volunteer meant giving my time for something I enjoy. I never expected any sort of recognition for anything that I had done.

This award shows that the Red Cross appreciates what their volunteers do, as does the rest of the world.  Winning the award made me feel proud of what I had done and I hope that the tragedies that have swept through Cumbria and the response to them demonstrate what an impact young people can have on their communities. By learning first aid you have the potential to save a friend or family member, and by volunteering you get the best feeling when someone says those magic two words to you ‘thank you’. It really makes it all worthwhile.”

Red100: A national conference for young volunteers

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Did you know that August 2010 – 2011 is the UN International Year of Youth? Did you also know that 2011 is the European Year of Volunteering? Over the next year, Red Cross National Societies across the world will be celebrating the contributions of their young volunteers, and the British Red Cross is no exception.

The British Red Cross has over 4000 volunteers under the age of 26. Young people contribute to many services from providing first aid at events, helping loan wheelchairs or befriending vulnerable refugees. With so many young volunteers it’s important that we make our voice heard and get involved in decision-making.

As part of this, the British Red Cross is going to hold its largest ever youth consultation event: Red100. One weekend in January, 100 of our most active young volunteers will descend on the quiet market town of Grantham. Their mission? To discuss how young people can make a real impact at all levels within the British Red Cross. The volunteers attending will also be selecting peers to represent the British Red Cross at various international gatherings for young Red Cross volunteers. This includes the General Assembly – a gathering of all the Red Cross National Societies from around the world!

In addition, Red100 is being organised by a team of seven passionate young volunteers representing all parts of the UK. Our aim is to make the event interactive, fun and an amazing experience for all the participants. Grantham – here we come!

Find out more about volunteering for the British Red Cross.

Are you already a young volunteer and interested in the conference? If so, search for ‘Red100’ on RedRoom.

Sign up for the Make a Difference Day challenge

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man in a mohican wigTo celebrate Make a Difference Day today –  a big day for volunteering – I’m setting you a challenge, dear reader, to demonstrate how easy it is to make a difference by doing relatively little.

The challenge is to perform an act of kindness above and beyond what you would normally do, between now and Friday. Email me (alixmiller@redcross.org.uk) about what you’ve done and why. The most interesting acts will star on my blog next week, and be shared with our entire online community.

It can be absolutely anything. Here are a few ideas:

– wear a silly wig for the day to fundraise

– hold some sponsored sumo wrestling

– volunteer to do an elderly neighbour’s shopping

–  offer to walk someone’s dog

– make a cake for your colleagues

– help a stranger

man in a sumo suitWhat will you get out of it? Well, a warm do-gooder glow for starters, plus the chance to get your name and act(s) of kindness in lights on our blog site. Hopefully the challenge will also tickle your feelgood fancy enough for you to sign up as a volunteer with us; our opportunities are many, varied and super-flexible – perfect for busy lives.

Of course, I couldn’t set the challenge without completing it myself. So, on your marks, get set…do good!

What does the Big Society mean?

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Guest post by Margaret Lally, Director of UK Operations for the British Red Cross

It took centre stage at the Conservative party conference this weekend and provided the focus of the Lords debate on Tuesday. But voluntary organisations at the vanguard of what is potentially one of the biggest ideas of our time continue to ask, ‘what does the Big Society mean?’

The British Red Cross could be seen as the ultimate supporter of a ‘Big Society’.  As part of the world’s largest volunteer organisation we have long recognised the power of local communities to provide support to those in need.

But the concept is ambiguous. Will it require voluntary organisations to drastically scale up their provision of services without the funding to do so? Does putting power in the hands of local communities risk an uneven distribution of service provision across the country? And is there a danger of blurring the distinction between civil society and statutory provision?

Ultimately, we cannot ignore the fact that the Big Society could be a way of using the voluntary sector as a vehicle to reduce government’s own commitments to safeguarding society’s most vulnerable.

Surprisingly there has been little reference to the Big Society in the provision of social care.  However, there is no doubt that meeting the care needs of the population is one of the biggest challenges facing policy-makers today.  In England, there are over 15 million people living with long-term care conditions.  With an aging population alongside a very limited pot of resources, this raises some difficult questions.

However, within social care, much of the Big Society rhetoric is already alive. Family and friends already take on a huge unpaid caring responsibility. Volunteering participation is high albeit not increasing in huge numbers. A recent survey found that in the past year 23% of respondents had formally volunteered in organisations related to health, disability and social welfare. Whether or not the Big Society will unlock a willingness amongst more people to volunteer, particularly during a period of financial hardship, remains to be seen.

Providing opportunities for citizen engagement through volunteering is not a free good.  It is crucial that structures are in place to support and develop volunteers and their contribution must be fully costed when services are being planned.  Currently volunteer services are often excluded from this level of attention.  Government must ensure that adequate resources are available to really make this idea work.

But the success of the Big Society can not be judged solely on the level of funding going to voluntary organisations or even the number of people volunteering. If it is about increased power to local people to design and contribute the services they need then it also needs to be able to respond to the needs of the most marginalised.

It will also lie in how well it responds to the needs of the most marginalised.  Everyone should be able to participate in the Big Society on an equal basis.  Too often, the most vulnerable individuals, young people, parents and the elderly are powerless to make the changes they want and need in their area. This could be due to their circumstances or inability to influence or act.  The barriers of frustration and obstacles to change must be overcome if we are to create the Big Society.

I was reminded of this by a colleague who had spoken to a young asylum seeker. Having escaped to the UK this 17 year old was faced with living without gas or electricity, without enough English to get a job and lacking the bus fare to even travel to the job centre. What, if anything, did Britain’s ‘Big Society’ mean to him?

Perhaps the biggest danger is that the Big Society could evolve to be literally just that. A society of the biggest, strongest, wealthiest and most vocal which fails to support marginalised groups, the most vulnerable and the disadvantaged.

The debates currently taking place within the political arena are important. Politicians need to address what they mean by the Big Society and clearly lay out how it will work in practice. This must be done in consultation service users and charities.

The definition of the Big Society is not set in stone. We have a real opportunity to build on the good work already happening in communities up and down the country and to ensure it doesn’t just become another empty slogan. But policies should not lead to the withdrawal of support from the most marginalised; wherever they may be. Whether services are provided by Government or by others is a matter for politicians. The bottom line is vulnerable people must get the support they need.