8 February 2012
Volunteers are braving sub-zero temperatures to visit the most vulnerable – who are often cold and distressed – and make sure they are safe and well.
Across the UK, Red Cross emergency responders have been out in the freezing conditions all week to call on elderly people stranded in their homes by the snowy weather.
In Kent, volunteer duo Tim Hall and Frances Smith spent Sunday visiting three extremely vulnerable people who needed extra support as their usual carers couldn’t get to them.
‘Cold and confused’
Tim explained: “Our first call was to a 99-year-old lady in Sevenoaks, who is sadly suffering from terminal illness. She was quite disorientated by the snow and change to her normal routine, but very pleased to see us.
“We got her a cup of tea and some breakfast, found some clean clothes, put the laundry on, and sat and chatted to her until she felt comfortable. (Later in the day, we went back to make sure she had an evening meal and put her to bed.)”
Time continued: “After that, we went to see another elderly lady in Sevenoaks who was feeling very unwell. Her carer had also been unable to get there, and the lady was feeling cold and confused, and complaining of chest pains.
“During our chat, we discovered her husband was in hospital and that she’d only recently returned home from hospital herself. We agreed the best thing would be to call an ambulance, and we also phoned her daughter to keep her informed. Then we sat with her until the ambulance arrived and explained the situation to the crew.”
‘Pleased to see us’
He reflected: “In circumstances like this, I feel the emotional support we offer by talking and listening is just as, if not more, important than the practical side. It makes a world of difference to people just to have someone to talk to. Spending a lot of time on your own can be hard.”
As the weather worsened, the volunteers ploughed on with their mission. Tim said: “The third lady we visited, in Limpsfield, was 89 and bedridden. We arrived to find her very distressed as she couldn’t take care of herself, but she recognised our Red Cross uniforms and was very pleased to see us.
“We made some hot soup and found her clean clothes, then prepared her breakfast for the next day. We also let her know we’d definitely be back if her usual carers were still unable to reach her.”
Tim, an emergency response volunteer for 16 years, spent almost 600 hours helping people last year. Unsurprisingly, volunteering has become an integral part of his life. He said: “It’s always great to know you’ve made a difference to someone who really needed it.”
His co-volunteer, Frances Smith, couldn’t be more different: that weekend was her very first emergency response call-out.
She said: “Sunday was definitely an eye-opener for me, but it was reassuring to be working alongside someone with experience of these home visits. I feel genuinely privileged to have been able to contribute and help the people we visited.”
The Red Cross, along with governments and other organisations, is currently spearheading a Ready for Winter campaign, offering practical help and advice for people during periods of severe weather.