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From sandbags to warm shelters: how the British Red Cross helps during a flood

When a terrifying wall of floodwater swept through Tony’s home last year, we found a bed for him in a refuge centre – and made sure plenty of cups of tea were on hand. Meanwhile, our volunteers went from door-to-door in Yorkshire and the Midlands, offering sandbags, clean-up items… and even birthday cake

Last updated 8 March 2023

You may know the Red Cross that helps people overseas, but we’re also always looking out for people here at home. During the floods which wreaked havoc in Yorkshire and the Midlands in November 2019:


  • our volunteers went door-to-door, checking vulnerable residents were safe
  • support was provided to people from around 120 homes in Nottinghamshire without power
  • in Worksop, reception centres handed out clean-up items to families in need 
  • volunteers delivered sandbags in Redbourne, Humberside
  • we let people know what help was available in Bassetlaw, Nottinghamshire.

We give refuge in emergency rest centres

In Doncaster, South Yorkshire, torrents of floodwater swept through the town. Over 640 homes flooded and over 2,000 lives were put at risk.

Joe Welsh, a British Red Cross volunteer, had never seen devastation like it. “The severity was a once-in-a-generation event,” he said.

Joe was one of over 150 Red Cross volunteers working around the clock. Together, they raced to flood-proof buildings with sandbags and braved freezing water to check on vulnerable residents. With a smile and a cup of tea, they were on hand to greet evacuees sheltering in an emergency rest centre.

The old Salvation Army hall offered some small respite for evacuees. Joe knew from experience that seeing a friendly face can help people deal with trauma.

He recalled comforting a man to make sure he wasn’t forgotten in the drama of the day. “He showed me some photos of his family home. They rescued what they could but the water level was up to his chest by the time they left – he’d lost everything. I listened and did the best I could,” Joe said.


We help with practicalities and make time for people

While volunteers like Joe always find time to chat, they also give practical support. Donations of food, water, clothing and cleaning supplies were a much-needed crutch while people got back on their feet. 

Two young evacuees Joe helped needed a prescription for asthma inhalers – they’d left them at home in the rush to escape. Joe headed into the rain to pick up the inhalers at a local supermarket, but also made time to pick up a birthday cake. It was the youngest boy’s birthday and Joe thought it’d be nice to surprise him. 

Back at the rest centre, staff lit the candles and the whole centre stopped to sing happy birthday. 

“The look of sheer joy on the little lad’s face brightened up a day that he could have remembered only for what went wrong,” Joe said. “It’s at times like this that you see the best of our communities, and I hope we brought a little warmth and reassurance where it’s needed most.”

We bring communities together

For Doncaster resident Tony, the rest centre gave him somewhere to sleep. He had woken up to find the River Don had burst its banks and his home on a campsite was being evacuated.

Tony’s neighbour hammered on his caravan door at 7am and saved his life. In the hours after Tony’s rescue, the water rose to five feet and swept right through his home. He lost everything, but he was safe.

“Quite a few of my neighbours are here so we are keeping each other company,” he said. “All the volunteers have been good to us and we’ve been well taken care of – they are always bringing us cups of tea!”


We'll help when flooding get worse

The British Red Cross is committed to providing care and comfort during emergencies to anyone who needs it. On average, we respond to an emergency in the UK every four hours.

If you’d like to know more about flooding in the UK and how the British Red Cross is helping communities to prepare, find out about our new emergencies partnership.

Get involved

If you'd like to help, we have a variety of volunteering opportunities available.


Support in a crisis

The British Red Cross provides support in communities across the UK. Making sure you're prepared for flooding is really important. Check our advice of what to do before, during and after an emergency to protect you and your loved ones.

Or, if you've suffered from a flood and are looking for advice of what to do next contact our Support line.

Emergencies in the UK

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