From helping UK families sort out their insurance details after a house fire, to arranging the logistics for receiving tonnes of aid in the Philippines – Dave Luddington has been part of the Red Cross’ work both at home and away.
The retired logistics projects manager has spent nine years involved with the Red Cross, as both an emergency response volunteer in the UK and as an overseas aid worker specialising in logistics.
What started off as an interest in learning first aid en-route to retirement, ended up blooming into something that has taken Dave halfway across the world.
Dave, from south-west Hertfordshire, had been involved locally with the Red Cross when he realised the organisation did emergency response work in the UK.
And it turned out that one of the emergency response unit vehicles used by the Red Cross was – at that time – based at the end of Dave’s road.
Having once been a heavy goods driver, Dave soon found himself behind the wheel of the specially-adapted vehicle responding to call-outs across Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Essex.
The vehicle is kitted out with all the things people are likely to need after a fire or flood – from food to contact details for insurers.
“We get called out to help people following all kinds of situations, from fires to floods,” Dave explained.
“We help them start to work through the emotional trauma and practicalities of their situation.”
And sometimes doing that can be challenging.
“A couple of years ago we were called out to Hertford where about 20 people had been evacuated because of a severe fire,” Dave said.
“Happily, they were safe, but within that group there were some people who had very little English so supporting them in this confusing time was tricky.
“However, I was able to ping out a Red Cross booklet with translations for key phrases that are likely to be required in this kind of situation.
“They were just so pleased and relieved to be able to communicate reasonably meaningfully.”
No matter what the situation, Dave says the people he meets are always really grateful to see the Red Cross emblem when he arrives on scene to help – if not slightly confused.
“People are frequently surprised to see us – they just don’t know that the Red Cross does this kind of stuff in the UK,” Dave said.
But Dave has also seen a very different side to the Red Cross. With a background in logistics and project management, he was well suited to responding to emergencies overseas.
Dave’s first deployment was in 2010 after devastating floods hit Pakistan. Around one-fifth of Pakistan’s total land area was affected by floods. He was deployed as part of our emergency response unit (ERU).
Dave explained: “The overall aim is to work together across the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement to set up the supply chain that brings in support and relief supplies from all over the world to those who need it.”
It’s often a huge task which is on-going in the background. While that means Dave does not necessarily come face-to-face with the people being helped, ensuring the supply chains work smoothly is a critical job.
As well as Pakistan, Dave was also deployed to the Philippines in 2013 after Typhoon Haiyan, to South Sudan in 2014 following an outbreak of cholera and to Greece in 2015 responding to the refugee crisis.
Each crisis has been a unique experience for Dave. A particular memory in South Sudan springs to the forefront of Dave’s mind.
“I think we did two really valuable things in South Sudan following the cholera outbreak,” he said.
“One was supporting education of the population in a number of small towns on hygiene and the importance of clean water. The other was bringing in a huge water treatment unit.”
This unit is capable of treating water for up to 40,000 people per day. Getting this from Austria into an area 75 miles south-east of the capital of Juba was one of Dave’s highlights.
“It usually took up to three months to get stuff imported into South Sudan – we managed to get the unit in within four days,” Dave said proudly.
Dave’s involvement with the Red Cross overseas has been challenging. But he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I feel that if there is an overwhelming need for something to be done you do your best to find ways of doing it, come what may,” Dave said.
Some of the people he has come across have helped spur this attitude.
“In the Philippines we worked with the local Red Cross to set up a warehouse in Roxas where a guy from the local branch was sent to work with us.
“This guy worked and worked and worked. He was there at 6am and often worked to 10pm at night. This went on for about a week.
“When we got talking we discovered that not only was he working with us during the day, but that by night he was helping his parents and sibling to rebuild their home lost in the typhoon.
“We visited him at home and a couple of our guys then helped him rebuild.”
Why do it?
Dave is very straightforward about his motivations.
“I was approaching retirement and felt I wanted something vaguely useful and challenging,” Dave said.
“But once you get out there and you find yourself in the thick of things, it very quickly becomes overtaken by desire to support and work with the people who have suffered.”
He added: “It’s not about individuals – it’s about team work. The Red Cross enables people to deliver far more than they could as individuals. I feel privileged to be able to be part of it.
Find out how you can volunteer for the Red Cross in the UK.