Most people don’t know how to help in a local emergency – until now

The British Red Cross and Aviva launch campaign to sign up 10,000 volunteers to support in local emergencies.

  • British Red Cross responds to an emergency every four hours in the UK - from fires, to extreme weather conditions and flooding, to national emergencies including acts of terror.
  • One in five (21%) people in the UK have witnessed or experienced a large-scale emergency such as fire and flooding.
  • The drive to sign up 10,000 volunteers comes after the British Red Cross experienced one of its busiest years since WWII in 2017, assisting 9,265 people in more than 1,500 emergencies across the UK in 2017.
  • Almost nine in ten people (88%) say that if an emergency happened in their community they would want to get involved, yet more than half (53%) of people would not know what to do if a disaster struck. 
Two volunteers at a community response exercise

A new report published by the British Red Cross and Aviva shows that the majority of people in the UK want to help if disaster strikes in their community but would not know what to do. 1

The report, ‘When Crisis Hits: mobilising kindness in our communities’, published today, reveals that almost nine in ten people (88%) say that if an emergency happened in their community they would want to get involved, yet more than half (53%) of people would not know what to do if a disaster struck.

The British Red Cross, in partnership with Aviva, is calling on people across the UK to sign up to a new scheme called community reserve volunteers, to help create a national network of people ready to help in a local emergency.  

The scheme hopes to recruit 10,000 community reserve volunteers across the UK by the end of 2019. It takes just ten minutes to sign up at

The volunteers don’t need any specialist skills and will be called in if crisis strikes in their area. It’s quick and easy to sign up online and community reserve volunteers will be contacted by text if there is an emergency in their community they could help with. They will undertake vital practical jobs like packing food parcels, blowing up airbeds for rest centres and filling sandbags in times of flooding.

The call for people to sign up comes after the British Red Cross experienced one of the busiest years since WWII, assisting 9,300 people in more than 1,500 emergencies across the UK in 2017, including terror attacks in London and Manchester, and the Grenfell Tower fire.

As part of the report published today, the British Red Cross and Aviva surveyed more than 4,000 UK adults about how prepared they are for a local emergency.

The findings showed that:

  • More than nine in ten people (93%) who had experienced a major emergency helped or had wanted to help.
  • Two thirds of people (66%) who had been involved in a major emergency felt there was more their community could have done to help if they knew how.
  • Last year’s events in London and Manchester have heightened our awareness of crisis response in the UK. More than half of people (53%) feel it’s more likely that their community could be vulnerable to a major incident in the future.
  • The most prepared areas were coastal locations, where three in ten (30%) people had experienced an emergency and 66% of people feel their community is prepared to cope with one.

The research also highlighted that people want to help, but don’t always know how. More than nine in ten (94%) of people feel it’s important to know how they can help in an emergency to help speed up the recovery. The biggest reasons that would hold people back from helping in an emergency were not knowing how they could help (27%) and feeling like they didn’t have the right skills (19%).

Thomas Milburn, 26, signed up as a community reserve volunteer after being assisted by British Red Cross volunteers when he was badly burnt in the Shoreham Air Show disaster. He said:

I looked up into the sky and this plane was coming straight towards me. The next split second I was engulfed in flames. I thought 'I’m not sure I’m going to make it out of this alive'. The British Red Cross got me sat down, checked all my vital signs, and made sure I was alright. If I had been away from their help I’d potentially have had much more serious injuries.

In the aftermath of the crash the British Red Cross did a lot to help the emergency personnel on the scene and people in the community can help with in those extreme circumstances. I think the community reserve volunteer initiative is a really great idea because not everyone has the time to volunteer on a weekly or monthly basis but people do want to get involved when something major happens. It’s something that I’ll be proud to help the Red Cross with.

Thomas Milburn

Simon Lewis, Head of Crisis Response at the British Red Cross, said:

“The British Red Cross responds to a UK emergency every four hours.

“Last year we faced a huge number of major emergencies like those in London and Manchester. They brought tragedy to so many people, but we witnessed remarkable acts of kindness and saw that people really want to give practical help when crisis hits.

“The findings of our report with Aviva show that despite this desire to help, people often don’t know how best to assist or worry they don’t have the right skills to get involved. 

“By creating a national taskforce of community reserve volunteers we want to put local people at the heart of emergency response, to help communities rebuild and recover faster.

“Everyone has a role to play when disaster strikes, even the smallest act of kindness can make a huge difference. It’s quick and easy to sign up online community reserve volunteers, you don’t need specialist skills and we need your help now more than ever.” 

Graham Brogden, Head of Property Technical Claims at Aviva UK, said:  

“At Aviva we understand how traumatic and disruptive major events can be to communities.  Our own claims teams are often among the first on the ground when incidents occur and we see first-hand how important it can be for communities to pull together in times of crisis. 

“That’s why we’re proud to be launching the community reserve volunteer programme as part of our ongoing partnership with the British Red Cross. By recruiting 10,000 volunteers across the UK, we hope to support the vital work of emergency responders and the British Red Cross teams in helping communities manage the unexpected, as well as help prevent or limit the damage caused. 

“The community reserve volunteer programme is the latest initiative in our three-year partnership with the British Red Cross to help make communities stronger and safer.  Sadly not every emergency can be prevented, but by equipping volunteers with the skills they need, we can help bring neighbours together to make the difference they want to should the worst happen.”

British Red Cross volunteers

To be a community reserve volunteer you don’t need specialist skills to make a difference and simple acts of kindness can make big difference. Any necessary training will be given at the scene of the crisis and you can confirm your availability when you are contacted.

To learn more about the British Red Cross’ Community Reserve Volunteer scheme with Aviva and how to sign up, visit:



Sarah Poulter
+44 (0) 7800 691569

Liz Kennett
+44 (0) 7800 692675

1)    The findings come from a nationally representative online survey of 4,000 adults conducted by Opinium, 9th-13th March 2018.

Notes to editors

  • More than 20,500 people volunteer for the British Red Cross. The events of last year saw one of the largest humanitarian responses in our history, and it is only through the support of the British public, giving their time to support us, that we can continue to help people in crisis in the UK and throughout the world.
  • The British Red Cross teamed up with Aviva in February 2016 for a three-year partnership to help communities become safer and stronger in times of uncertainty and crisis.
  • Aviva provides life insurance, general insurance, health insurance and asset management to 33 million customers.
  • In the UK Aviva is the leading insurer serving one in every four households and have strong businesses in selected markets in Europe, Asia and Canada. Our shares are listed on the London Stock Exchange and we are a member of the FTSE100 index. 
  • Aviva’s asset management business, Aviva Investors, provides asset management services to both Aviva and external clients, and currently manages over £350 billion in assets. Total group assets under management at Aviva group are £490 billion.
  • Aviva helps people save for the future and manage the risks of everyday life; we paid out £34.6 billion in benefits and claims in 2017.
  • By serving our customers well, we are building a business which is strong and sustainable, which our people are proud to work for, and which makes a positive contribution to society.
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The British Red Cross helps people in crisis, whoever and wherever they are. We are part of a global voluntary network, responding to conflicts, natural disasters and individual emergencies. We enable vulnerable people in the UK and abroad to prepare for and withstand emergencies in their own communities. And when the crisis is over, we help them to recover and move on with their lives.