Op RE:ACT: Volunteering after Military Life

Veteran Nick Challis served 20 years in the Royal Logistic Corps. He is now a Team Rubicon UK volunteer, working on Op RE:ACT to support the work of the Countywide Hub in Cambridgeshire. Here, Nick talks about his time as a volunteer during COVID-19.

As someone who had an unconventional start in life, I understand vulnerability and I’m passionate about helping others. My time in the Army gave me the purpose I needed but that sense of service never leaves you. It’s what drew me to Team Rubicon UK – the chance to help others and give something back. Joining an international disaster response charity, I didn’t think I’d be volunteering so close to home.

My wife and I were volunteering at a wildlife sanctuary in Namibia for a few weeks when the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the globe. Sensing the gravity of the situation, we returned to the UK in the blink of an eye. My wife went back to work as a nurse and I was deployed by Team Rubicon UK to help the Local Resilience Forum set up the PPE distribution operation across Cambridgeshire.

Op RE:ACT, Team Rubicon UK’s response to COVID-19, was launched to offer our skills in rapid response and building situational awareness to support local communities and frontline services such as the NHS. We’re a small charity that punches above its weight, harnessing military experience and training to develop small teams of highly-skilled and agile disaster response volunteers. It’s our experience, skills and training that enable us to deploy so rapidly.

With the situation in the UK deteriorating fast, it was clear we could serve a purpose.

My first task was to develop strategic relationships and understand the situation on the ground. The strength of any team and any operation is based on collaboration. This is something we’re taught on our training courses and we put to good effect, whether in Mozambique or the UK.

Once the set-up for this initial task was complete, I moved on to lead another team conducting welfare visits to members of the vulnerable and shielded community who had not responded to the council’s efforts to offer support.

On the first day I met with volunteer Roy Harold MBE (former Fire Chief, Norfolk); he was leading operations on-the-ground. We were briefed by Rob Hill (Peterborough City and Cambridgeshire County Council) and Jonathan Harwood (British Red Cross Emergency Response Officer) and we quickly got to work.

Together, along with 30 spontaneous volunteers from some 15 different organisations, we completed almost 500 visits on the first day. We used paper maps, spreadsheets, a lot of communication, flexibility and a huge sense of humour to deliver on our task. An IT-based route optimisation package was then installed, which further accelerated delivery of these critical visits.

All the volunteers instinctively moved towards the challenges, leaving their egos

behind. We sought to first understand, then plan, communicate, get organised and

deliver the solution, rapidly and collegiately. It was fantastic to see how well we worked together, it was a real team effort.

By the end of the week we had made contact with almost 2,500 on the vulnerable list that the council hadn’t initially been able to make contact with and close to 3,000 addresses had been visited.

It shows how many people are out there that we don’t normally consider. Often they’re invisible in our everyday lives. Our job is to reach these people, to help them, to support them, to let them know they’re not alone. That’s no different to what we do internationally; it’s just the environment that’s different.

I’m so proud to have helped during this difficult time for the country. Beyond my own family, helping others is my main motivation and ambition in life. I’m extremely grateful to Team Rubicon UK, Peterborough City and Cambridgeshire County Councils for giving me two wonderful opportunities to volunteer on Op RE:ACT.

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

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