Category: UK

Post relating to the British Red Cross in the United Kingdom

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

Podcast: volunteering for 70 years


Black and white image of Judy Stokes in a Red Cross nurse uniformThe British Red Cross turns 140 years young this summer, and there’s at least one woman who’s been volunteering with us for half that time. Talk about dedication!

Listen to Judy Stokes share her incredible memories – from war-time nursing to teaching young people first aid.

[audio:|titles=Volunteer for 70 yrs – Judy Stokes]


Asylum seekers: popular myths debunked


Life has been very tough on Mary.

As a Ugandan teenager, she was repeatedly raped and beaten, and had a child by her sexually abusive father. Her twin sister died, aged 13, following female genital mutilation and Mary herself contracted the HIV virus. Finally, her mother managed to put her on a flight to the UK – and was later beaten to death for allowing her to escape.

It’s hard to know where to even begin when describing such a joyless, unremitting story – there’s nothing in my cosy and contented life that can possibly compare to the bleakness of Mary’s story.

All of which makes the findings of a recent ICM poll commissioned by the Red Cross look a little dispiriting. As I read it, one by one the hoary old clichés come churning out. Asylum seekers come here to claim benefits; they’re just here to work illegally; they all get £100 a week to live on.

But such myths don’t tally with the picture we see at the Red Cross. We help hundreds of people each year who have been forced to flee their countries in fear of their lives, often leaving beloved family members behind. A large majority end up homeless, hungry, depressed and destitute. Many are unwell but unable to access medical care. Those who do manage to find support receive accommodation and vouchers equalling just £35 a week.

Crucially, asylum seekers aren’t allowed to work in the UK. Forget the benefit scroungers tag: there are hundreds of skilled and talented asylum seekers out there who would like nothing better than to earn an honest living while their claim is processed (which can take years). But they can’t.

During Refugee Week, the Red Cross’ Look Beyond the Label campaign will be highlighting the plight of destitute asylum seekers in the UK. And on Wednesday 16 June, we’ll publish a destitution report (it’ll be on our website homepage) which gives the lie to many popular myths and underscores in precise detail just how difficult life can be for someone caught up in the limbo of the asylum system.

It’ll be an uphill struggle to counter the many deep-seated prejudices against asylum seekers, but you can help us by spreading the word about our campaign and voting (starting Monday 14th) to support an end to destitution.

Mary's story


“My twin sister died of female genital mutilation (FGM) when she was 13 years old.”

However, when Mary* turned 13 years old, she was pregnant with her father’s baby. Her father had been sexually abusing her since she was eight.

After giving birth, it became time for me to be cut. My mother came from a different tribe where they do not practise FGM and did not want me to have it done because she was scared that I would die like my sister. When I refused, community members beat me very badly. My father then kept me in a room where I was repeatedly beaten and five men came and raped me. I gave birth to another baby girl as a result of these rapes. They were trying to break me so I would agree to be cut.”

At 19 years old, her mother arranged for an agent to help her to escape. The agent took her from her home and put her on a flight to the UK. On arrival, she was abandoned on a bus bound for London.

Mary later found out that her parents were beaten to death by the community for allowing her to escape. Her younger sister now looks after her three children that she had to leave behind. They are constantly on the run in case the community tracks them down and kills them.

After Mary’s claim was refused in 2004 and her support was cut, she begged food from friends. She received weekly food parcels from a refugee organisation in Manchester. After this she found friends who needed help looking after their children in exchange for food or a floor to sleep on. She would spend all day looking after the children and doing housework. She worked hard so that they might let her stay a little longer.

Some would let me stay for a week, some a month. I lost count of how many times I moved. The last friend that I stayed with let me stay for one and a half years. She is so kind. I was lucky.”

Mary was detained in 2008 when the Home Office raided a house she was staying in. There was a mix up by the Home Office with her case, which they later admitted. Her case is still unresolved.

Mary is HIV positive but has never disclosed this to any of her friends or acquaintances. She has numerous health problems stemming from this, including eye infections. Because of her poor diet she is severely anaemic. She has considered committing suicide on a number of occasions.

Mary came to the British Red Cross in 2009. She had been destitute for four years even though she had submitted further evidence to support her asylum claim in 2006. We provided food vouchers and arranged emergency accommodation for a weekend.

Part of a series of posts on the topic of destitution for Refugee Week.

* Names have been changed to protect peoples’ identities.

Adam's story


Adam* was a university student in Sudan. The government arrested him when problems broke out in Darfur. He was accused of inciting fellow students. Adam was detained on two separate occasions and was tortured during his detention; he was kicked and beaten with iron poles, locked in a small room where burning material was thrown in to choke him, and tied upside-down if he did not give the answers his torturers wanted. When Adam was released, he was told to regularly report and sign in with the authorities, but he decided to flee the country.

Adam paid an agent to take him somewhere safe but he did not know where he was going. Adam claimed asylum in the UK in January 2008 and was refused asylum a year later in February 2009.

He now spends his time trying to search for food by visiting different people he knows. He has no income at all and has no regular source of food or shelter: “I eat once a day if friends can spare some food.”

He says he really wants to be able to support himself and not rely on handouts from other people.
“I feel really bad not having a job. I want to be independent and not depend on others’ kindness for food. I want to be able to support my family as well.”

Adam tries to occupy himself by going to language classes and reading at the library. He says that life in the UK is now similar to life in Sudan because in both places he was not able to support himself; in the UK he is not allowed to work and in Sudan he could not live openly because the authorities were looking for him. The situation has caused him severe depression.

The British Red Cross has been able to support Adam in a limited capacity. We are able to provide £10 food vouchers per week, and clothes and toiletries from our clothing project. Adam has been given advice on where he can access a homelessness project and receive hot food on a daily basis.

Part of a series of posts on the topic of destitution for Refugee Week.

* Names have been changed to protect peoples’ identities.