Category: Volunteering

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.