Photographs capture kindness shown during emergencies in London and Manchester last year

Images by British portrait and fashion photographer Rankin profile British Red Cross volunteers who supported on the frontline of UK terror attacks and Grenfell Tower fire in 2017

Renowned photographer Rankin has captured the kindness shown by British Red Cross volunteers who helped in last year’s emergencies in London and Manchester. Terror attacks in the UK, including the Manchester Arena bombing in May 2017 and the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017, led to one of the largest humanitarian responses by the British Red Cross in the UK since the second world war.

Images from the photoshoot have been released by the charity to help mark Red Cross Week (6-12 May).

In the aftermath of the terror attacks and the Grenfell Tower fire, more than 1,000 British Red Cross volunteers worked alongside the emergency services and with local communities. They provided first aid at the scene; gave emotional and practical support at rest centres; helped people at friends and family centres who were bereaved or searching for missing loved ones; managed a 24-hour support line; and sorted through 200 tons of items donated by the British public.

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“The horrific events in Manchester and London last summer were truly shocking for our nation,” said Zoë Abrams, executive director at the British Red Cross. “But even during these most terrible of times we also saw the extraordinary power of human kindness as the country came together to help in any way they could.”

Laszlo Kelemen, 33, an intensive care practitioner from London, has been a Red Cross volunteer since he was 15, starting in his home country of Romania, before joining the British Red Cross two years ago. He was part of the charity’s response to the London Bridge attack, Grenfell Tower Fire and Finsbury Park attack, providing psychosocial support to those affected.

Laszlo said: “The Red Cross is part of who I am. Before last summer I felt like someone who just lived in London but now I feel that I’m part of this city because I was able to help. I’ve experienced its very worst but also its best.”

Even during these most terrible of times we also saw the extraordinary power of human kindness as the country came together to help in any way they could

Julia Reason from Warrington, Cheshire, has volunteered with the British Red Cross for more than eight years. Following the Manchester Arena attack, she was deployed to Oldham hospital to help staff who needed respite. She also provided emotional support to people at the memorial that took place in memory of the victims in the city centre. In June, Julia travelled to London to support the families who had been affected by the fire at Grenfell Tower.

Laszlo Kelemen and Julia Reason volunteer for the British Red Cross

She said: “I first heard about the Manchester Arena attack whilst I was watching TV. When something terrible like that happens, especially when it’s so close to home, you just want to do anything you can to help.

“The events of last year have had a lasting impact on me. But as a volunteer for the British Red Cross we’re privileged to be able to help people when they need it most, and support them through emergencies like these.”

For more information visit #powerofkindness

The power of kindness: volunteers’ stories

Sairah and Hannah Merchant, first aid volunteers from Kent

This mother and daughter team travelled to London last June to help with the response to the Grenfell Tower fire. They used to live in Bayswater and knew the neighbourhood well, so felt compelled to help when the British Red Cross put a call out for volunteers. It was 19-year-old Hannah’s first emergency since signing up as a volunteer. Sairah is now training to become a paramedic after becoming passionate about emergency response.

Sairah said: “We used to live not too far from Grenfell. My kids used to go to the school nearby and we still have friends in the area. When we were watching what happened on the news it all felt so personal to us. There was no question that we wanted to go and help. Mostly we provided psychosocial support and helped with minor injuries and cuts and bruises, but many people just needed a listening ear. It was an extremely difficult time, and we just tried to help in any way that we could.”


Farheen Chaudhry, refugee support and emergency response volunteer from Paddington, London

Farheen has been volunteering for the British Red Cross for over two years. When she signed up she couldn’t have anticipated that her neighbourhood would experience an emergency like the Grenfell Tower fire. Farheen volunteered for several weeks, supporting with local outreach work as part of the British Red Cross response to the fire.

She said: “I can see the tower from my living room window. When I opened the blinds on the morning of the fire, it was surreal. I could see that the tower was on fire, and that there was smoke, and helicopters circling overhead. Straight away I knew that this was going to be a huge emergency as I had worked in disaster and emergency zones before and understood the implications.

“Meeting people who had lost someone in the fire, or who had seen what happened up close, was the most emotionally taxing part. I just wanted to help in some small way and I often wished that I could have done more. I have always felt that I just could not do enough.”


Rukia Shepherd, emergency response volunteer from Bury in Manchester

Mother-of-three and teaching assistant Rukia felt compelled to support her fellow Mancunians after hearing the news of the attack on Manchester Arena. Some pupils at the Manchester school where she works were supposed to have been at the concert, and a student teacher had been there with her young daughter. Rukia was deployed to Oldham hospital to provide psychosocial support to the relatives of people who died. She then went to support members of the public at St Ann’s Square, the space set up for mourners at the heart of the city.

“Nothing prepares you for a scene like the one at Oldham hospital,” she said. “No one spoke: the silence was deafening. Slowly we began to provide comfort and reassurance to those who needed it. It wasn’t just families and friends; it was the hospital staff too. It was very sombre in that room. It’s something that stays with you.

“The space at St Ann’s Square was so surreal, it was so peaceful but the city just carried on around us in a strange way. It was like an invisible wall; you felt like you left the entire world once you were in that space.

“In that space there was strength, kindness, and most of all humanity – which is what I believe in most. I’d never experienced that feeling so strongly before. Everyone was reunited, to regroup and resolve.”

In that space there was strength, kindness, and most of all humanity – which is what I believe in most

Two weeks later Rukia travelled to London to support families who had been affected by the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower.


Marilyn and Derek Williams, emergency response volunteers from Horsham, West Sussex

In 2019, Marilyn and Derek will have been married for 50 years. They have been volunteering for the British Red Cross for 25 years and did approximately 15 shifts in the immediate aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire, helping provide support to people within the community and their fellow volunteers. They also carried out outreach work with NHS teams, visiting many of the bereaved and members the public who were affected by the fire.

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Derek said: “Nothing could ever really prepare you for something like the fire at Grenfell Tower. It was probably the most demanding and intense situations that we have ever been involved in, in the 25 years we have been volunteering for the British Red Cross.”

“There must be hundreds of British Red Cross volunteers who have done extraordinary things over the 150 years or so that it’s been around,” added Marilyn. “It is a privilege for us to do the things that we do, and to be part of this great movement.”


Elaine Meakin, community connector from Fife in Scotland

Elaine Meakin had been working for the British Red Cross for just two months when she responded to the call for emergency response volunteers and headed to London from Scotland to help those affected by the Grenfell Tower fire.

Elaine said: “As soon as we got off the train, the tower was there. I just couldn’t take it in. Walking to the rest centre, there were all the tributes and messages. It was just really moving. There was a picture of a wee girl who was missing. It was drawn by children at the nursery and it said: ‘We miss you. Come back soon.’

“I just wanted to help in some way. Even just talking to somebody and making somebody smile because I had a Scottish accent. I felt very proud to be there and to be part of the British Red Cross response.”


Marilisa Casturà, from Norwich, Norfolk

Marilisa Casturà dedicated her weekends and evenings to providing a calm and supportive ear to hundreds of people affected by last summer’s incidents by volunteering on the British Red Cross emergency support helpline, alongside working a full-time job.

Despite living in the east of England – far away from the events – by the time the Grenfell tragedy unfolded she was already providing emotional and practical support to people had been caught up in both the terror attacks at the Manchester Arena and London Bridge. Two weeks later she travelled to London to support the families there.

Marilisa said: “The sense of community that I felt at Grenfell was like nothing that I’d ever experienced anywhere else. You see these incidents on the news but you don’t feel that togetherness and strength until you’re there.”

“At the rest centre I remember sitting down with someone, making them a cup of tea and just listening to them – even though it was a small gesture they were so grateful. You just help in whatever way you can.”


Pearl Mullan, from Ballykelly in Northern Ireland

Despite never having flown before, Pearl felt compelled to get on a plane to London last summer to help support people affected by the Grenfell Tower fire. She has been supporting the British Red Cross for 12 years and was inspired to sign up as an emergency response, and first aid volunteer, to help support people in crisis after an emergency.

“I was very nervous getting on the plane for the first time,” said Pearl. “We managed it OK in the end. I just thought this is something I am going to have to do if I want to go there and help people. I just wanted to see if we could help in any way.”

All images: Rankin



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