When a fire broke out in a six-storey block of flats in De Pass Gardens, Barking, in June 2019, Russell was deployed as a community reserve volunteer alongside the British Red Cross response.
“It happened just over a mile from me,” Russell explains. “I’ve lived in Dagenham, just down the road, for the past nine years so Barking and Dagenham is my borough.
“At the end of the day, people in the borough are in need and it’s an awful thing that happened so it’s really great to give back and to help my neighbours, my fellow people, get back on their feet.”
“We supported where they needed us. We sorted through clothing and food and helped with handing our food parcels. We were just there to do what they needed us to do.”
Russell is also part of the Countess Mountbatten’s own Legion of Frontiersmen, which often supports and assists service organisations. The Legion of Frontiersmen were so touched by the Red Cross’ response that they donated £500 to the relief efforts.
“One of the things that got to me was that the only fatalities were cats,” Russell says. “One of the things we did was to go around trying to find suitable boxes to bury them in.”
“It was incredibly sad. That hits home. You can prepare yourself for people not having clothes, and it’s sad, but that just really ripped at us. We weren’t expecting it.”
Although all the residents thankfully made it out of their homes, every emergency is personal and can have devastating effects on those involved. Our community reserve volunteers alleviate the pressure on our trained emergency response volunteers by carrying out practical tasks, so they can ensure those affected are getting the emotional support they need.
Russell saw first-hand the difference that these small acts of kindness can make for people in crisis.
“Everyone was incredibly grateful,” he says. “You’re helping someone who’s had their feet taken out from under them and to watch them leave in a better place than they were before they engaged with you is an incredible feeling.”
After years working in disaster relief, Russell is still touched by the solidarity shown by the community in the aftermath of an emergency.
“There’s a man who has been supplying about 50 chicken and chips for the kids after school.” Russell says. “There’s also a lady who has been coming every night with 20-30 meals for people.”
“To see the community come together, it makes you proud to be part of the borough.”
It only takes ten minutes to sign up to become a community reserve volunteer. The initiative, which is funded by Aviva, has already seen nearly 7,000 people sign up to support their community during a crisis.