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‘I believe it’s important to keep learning new things’

Valerie Meadows, Red Cross FESS and Support at Home Volunteer Valerie Meadows is just one of several hundred Red Cross volunteers in Northern Ireland but, like the other 599, her reasons for becoming a volunteer are entirely individual.

Valerie, now retired, used to work as a science teacher at Mitchell House, a Belfast school for children with special needs. She often chatted with David Gilroy who drove one of the school buses. What she didn’t know was that David was also a Red Cross volunteer, with the charity’s Fire and Emergency Support service. On the first occasion they got chatting about his volunteer work, David gave her a leaflet and persuaded her to attend a volunteer meeting!

Valerie now volunteers across a number of Red Cross services. She is a regular crew member for the Fire and Emergency Support Service (FESS), although she draws the line at driving; “I don’t fancy driving the big van, but I’m happy to do all the other tasks!”

Her FESS role has seen her attend a large fire at a paint factory, a house fire, several water rescues and a gas leak which caused local residents to have to evacuate their homes. “I enjoy the unpredictability!”

Valerie is also currently giving some time to the Red Cross Mobility Aids and Support at Home Services. The loan of a wheelchair, sometimes supplemented by a period of daily support from a Red Cross volunteer, can help people leave hospital earlier and perhaps avoid it altogether. She says;

“I’ve made such good friends. One couple in their nineties, whom I provided with Support at Home assistance, were an inspiration and just adorable! Another lady was losing her sight through diabetes. I felt a real sense of achievement when I heard she was now able to go into Tesco by herself – she didn’t have the confidence beforehand…”

Valerie finds that her Mobility Aids role offers both the opportunity for a good chat, and some light exercise!

“I enjoy that role as well because you have an opportunity to talk to people, both on the phone when they ring to make an inquiry or book a wheelchair, and when they come to collect their chair. The majority of people are really grateful for the service and often find it good to talk about the reason they need a chair which could be for themselves or a family member. I have to record each loan on the database, which challenges my computer skills...but I’m sure that for lots of people this would be easy! We also clean and carry out minor repairs to chairs when they come back and that demands a certain amount of physical activity which I find is a good workout with a purpose!

Valerie says a Red Cross volunteer needs to be flexible, good at listening, and a ‘people person’. When asked what she personally gets out of volunteering, she says it’s simple…”I believe it’s important to keep learning new things throughout your life. And I just enjoy being able to help people. Their appreciation is lovely.”