Op RE:ACT: Humble and proud – what it’s like for our veteran volunteers supporting NHS key workers

Team Rubicon UK volunteers have a lot of experience of high-intensity environments. It’s that experience that makes them especially proud and determined to help the dedicated staff at NHS Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospitals.

“My new superhero has a steely-eyed determination, normally a bit bloodshot,” says Charles Broadfoot. “They’ll have a line across their hair, a little bit of salt down the side of their face, lines across their eyes because of masks and protection and PPE.”

Charles, or Chass, is a retired Lieutenant Colonel of the Royal Regiment of Artillery with a 39-year service history. The superheroes he describes are the men and women he sees working round the clock at St Thomas’ hospital on the eerily quiet banks of the River Thames.

While the streets of London are unusually still, the staff inside its hospitals are unusually busy, dealing with the sharp end of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even to a man of Chass’ long and distinguished military career, these are no ordinary people. “I’m so proud to be here and doing my bit.”

Formerly a quartermaster in his army days, Chass is now part of a team of volunteers from Team Rubicon UK helping to run an on-site supermarket at St Thomas’ hospital, where food items donated by charities or supplied by Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust are being provided free-of-charge to hospital staff.

The items include milk, cereals, bread, vegetables – even Easter eggs. “Basically it’s everything they need,” Chass explains. “Some of the staff just need help and assistance because they don’t have time to get to the shops or the supermarkets.”

It may not be on a scale that Chass is used to but he knows he’s making a real difference.

“We’re just here to give emergency supplies to those heroes, my heroes,” says Chass. “I’ve only been here four days and it can be long hours but nothing compared to what’s going on in and amongst this hospital.”

Chass retired in 2017 and admits he had been at a bit of a loose end before hearing about Team Rubicon UK and so he wasted no time in volunteering as part of Op RE:ACT to help the UK during the COVID-19 health emergency.

“The great thing about Team Rubicon UK is we’re all ex-military, we’ve all been through that system,” says Chass. “It’s difficult to understand what that system is but that system is probably the ability to turn up, see a problem that can be challenging, and provide solutions.”

It’s a sentiment shared by Tim Wright, a former Royal Engineer and experienced Greyshirt volunteer, who has deployed on international rescue missions in the British Virgin Islands and Mozambique. Tim is now leading the team at St Thomas’ hospital, which has since expanded to Guy’s hospital, helping to provide over 700 meals a day across both sites, as well as almost 800 food packs to be distributed to Guy’s and St Thomas’ community staff.

“We’re working long hours here, 11 to 12-hour days on our feet, and our volunteers are just doing it, no complaining, just getting on with it,” says Tim.

It’s what our veteran volunteers have been trained to do and it’s what Chass’ new superheroes are doing too – getting on with it because there’s a job to be done.

If you’re a veteran and you want to do your part JOIN OP RE:ACT now.

We can only do our work because of generous donations from the public. If you are able to help us please DONATE.

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