How did the Red Cross start?
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent (as it was originally called) was founded in 1863 by Henry Dunant, who was a Swiss businessman and humanitarian. During the Battle of Solferino in Italy in 1859, he helped care for wounded soldiers, and also helped them to get messages home to their loved ones, knowing they weren’t going to make it back. His awareness of their needs caused him to set up the Red Cross. He also campaigned for countries to adopt an international agreement recognising the status of medical services and of wounded soldiers, which led to the creation of the original Geneva Convention in 1864. The British Red Cross started in 1870 – so it’s our 150th anniversary this year.
What does the charity do?
We have lots of different departments, helping with independent living, provision of mobility aids, international tracing and messaging, asylum seekers and refugee services, as well as crisis response to natural disasters – it’s about far more than providing overseas aid, although that’s often what people associate us with.
In East Sussex we provide two main services: Assisted Discharge Service and Home from Hospital and Carers Crisis Response. They are closely interlinked, with the focus on providing support to those who have come home from hospital and offering respite to carers.
We take referrals from people themselves, as well as from friends, neighbours, GPs, hospitals and social care services.
How can people help?
We’re always looking for volunteers, and there are lots of different ways people can get involved. Full training is provided, and there are no special skills required – it’s just about working from the heart and wanting to help people. We’ve all been in a situation where we’ve come out of hospital, or know someone who has. It’s about helping people get through a difficult time. All you need is the ability to listen and to be there.
Our volunteers might spend a couple of hours with someone providing companionship, or they might help with shopping or light housework, prepare a snack, or help with paperwork. Sometimes it might simply be about helping the person to rebuild their confidence as they adjust to being back home.
With respite care, you’re offering the carer the chance to go out without worrying about the person back at home; giving them the peace of mind that the person is safe, and the opportunity for them to do something for themselves, even if that’s just meeting a friend for a coffee. You see them come back a different person.
How will you be celebrating your 150th birthday?
We really want to celebrate by reaching out to more people, making our services better known and attracting new volunteers. They are our mainstay and we’d be lost without them.
Anita Hall spoke to Shila Patel, Independent Living Services Manager for Sussex, and Sophie Challis, Service Co-ordinator for East Sussex
Call 01273 227800 or see redcross.org.uk