A week on from the night that brought widespread flooding to parts of Yorkshire and the East Midlands, one volunteer tells us about his work in flood-hit Doncaster.
Looking back at a busy week volunteering in Doncaster with the Red Cross, one moment stands out.
It was the look on the face of a young lad whose birthday it was. He’d come in to a rest centre with his brother and mum and they were all a bit bewildered and upset at having to leave home.
Someone from the council had arranged for a prescription of the boys’ asthma inhalers – in the family’s hurry to leave they had left them at home. The Red Cross went down to the local supermarket and picked the prescription up. But, as we’d got wind it was the little lad’s birthday, we thought it’d be nice to get him a cake while we were there.
When we came back we lit the candles and the whole centre stopped to sing happy birthday. The look of sheer joy his face brightened up a day that he could have otherwise remembered only for what went wrong.
We’re trying to treat people as individuals
When I think about what we did for that little lad, it’s a good example of what the Red Cross is trying to do across much of South Yorkshire and the East Midlands. A lot of what we do is just trying to treat people as individuals, acknowledging them as they come into the rest centres, and making sure that they aren’t forgotten in the trauma of the day.
Our role has been to speak to people as they arrive at the rest centres, register them, and basically take a measure of how they have been affected. Elsewhere the Red Cross has picking up sleeping stuff for people and going door-to-door to check on the most vulnerable.
Some of the stories I’ve heard have been quite shocking. One man I met at the rest centre showed me some photos of his family home. The water level was up to his chest by the time they left. They rescued what they could put upstairs but anything downstairs is gone.
I couldn’t help thinking that I’m safe and dry, my home is safe and dry but to they have lost everything. They’ve worked hard, they’ve been here five years, everything they’ve accumulated in five years is just lost. It’s devastating for them. You support as best you can, but it’s hard.
As a volunteer, I know I can make a difference
Something I really enjoy about volunteering with the Red Cross is knowing that I can make a difference – even if it’s just to one person’s life. A couple of years ago I was volunteering near my home in Silsden, West Yorkshire.
A housing developer had knocked the gas off and I was part of the Red Cross team out in the community checking on the vulnerable people. In that case we were dishing out blankets or small fan heaters, and delivered meals for a care home cooked by the local pub.
Reflecting on a busy week, it’s simple moments like that impromptu birthday party that remind me what a big difference my volunteering makes. It might sound cheesy but that moment really did bring a bit of a glow to my heart.
It’s at times like this that you see the best of our communities and I hope that thought brings a little warmth and reassurance where it’s needed most.
The Red Cross and the Doncaster flood: in numbers
- In the week following the first reports of flooding, 72 British Red Cross volunteers helped over 300 people.
- This includes providing practical and emotional support, sleeping items and refreshment sat reception centres, and supporting with sandbagging.
- The Cabinet Office estimates that around 643 homes in the region were flooded following the heavy rains.
- £50,000 from the British Red Cross Disaster Fund is being used to help meet the urgent needs of people in the worst affected areas.
Donate to the Disaster Fund to help make sure we can help in the next emergency
Joe Welsh has been a British Red Cross volunteer for 30 years.
Photographs © Shaun Flannery Photography/British Red Cross