While most people were unwrapping gifts, Peter Robinson spent Christmas morning handing out tea and blankets to flood victims.

The 66-year-old was one of a group of volunteers with the Red Cross fire and emergency support service (FESS) helping elderly residents evacuated from the flooded residential caravan park at Iford Bridge.

Peter has been a volunteer with the scheme, which works in partnership with Dorset Fire and Rescue Service to help people cope after a fire or other emergency by providing practical and emotional support, since last April.

“You never know what to expect from an FESS call,” said Peter.

“On Christmas Day that call came in at 4am and myself and two other volunteers went straight to the Boscombe Day Centre, which was being used as a rest centre for people who had been evacuated from the flooded caravan park. We were among the first people there and there were no shops open so we unloaded tea, coffee and biscuits from our FESS vehicle and set up in the kitchen, providing cups of tea and biscuits to the people who were arriving.”

The FESS vehicle is equipped with everything people may need in an emergency, including clothes, trainers, hygiene packs, towels and blankets.

“People started arriving with wet feet and trousers, having been rescued by boat,” said Peter.

“Many had come out with nothing at all so they all seemed very grateful for what we had managed to provide for them. We also chatted to people as some were distressed. They were mainly elderly and a few had disabilities and Christmas Day was the worst possible day of the year it could have happened.”

Peter, who lives in Moordown, has clearly thrown himself into his work supporting people in need. Yet Christmas 2012 saw him facing his own crisis, after the death of his wife Sheena. But the support he and his family received during Sheena’s illness is what inspired him to become a volunteer.

“Before my wife’s death I never thought I’d be able to talk to people in distress,” reflects Peter.

“I never thought I’d be any good at that. But afterwards I thought, ‘what happens now? Do I sit indoors and watch telly all day or do I do something?’ “I sort of slapped myself round the face and thought, ‘I’ve got to do something that is of use to someone’.”

More than a third of people in the UK do not have support networks to turn to in a crisis, the British Red Cross has found, as it launches a nationwide campaign to raise support to help people both at home and abroad.

Yet almost two thirds of us apparently don’t believe people in the UK suffer crises in our lives in the same way as people in the overseas countries that the Red Cross supports.

That’s despite the fact that almost three quarters have been through a period of personal crisis, more than two thirds know someone who has and almost 40 per cent believe they could go through a crisis in the next five years.

The Dorset FESS team alone, which is often part of a multi-agency response, had 95 call outs in 2013, 45 of which have been attended by Peter.

“I think it’s an honour to be part of the Red Cross,” he said.

“I feel privileged and I get a lot of personal satisfaction. I love it really.”

  • The Red Cross is seeking FES volunteers in Dorset to cover daytime shifts. Volunteers receive full training and are of all ages and from all backgrounds. For more on volunteering with FESS contact service coordinator Klara Downing on 07702 803585. For more information on the British Red Cross visit redcross.org.uk