Christine Leith is The Cumberland’s Operational Resilience Manager, based from her home at West Linton near Edinburgh.

An expert in crisis planning, she is now also using her skills during her spare time to help the British Red Cross as an Emergency Response Volunteer.

At work Christine’s job is to make sure the building society has plans in place to respond to emergency situations such as a pandemic, flooding or even terrorism.

“I have done this work since 2004. It’s a really interesting job although the one time I thought I’m not sure I like it was during the London bombing when I was working for an insurance company and we had some staff in London.

“We needed to contact all of our people to make sure they were safe, and we ended up with two people we couldn’t get in touch with – suddenly you could put a name to them, and they became a person. I didn’t like that. But fortunately, they both turned out to be ok.”

Christine joined the British Red Cross after seeing them advertising for volunteers at a conference she was attending in 2020.

“I decided to join up. I guess I saw it as a good thing to do and it fitted well with my day job,” she says.

Recently Christine was called out to help a family who have recently arrived from the crisis in Sudan.

She received a message from the Red Cross at 5.30pm and was with the family around two hours later.

"They were staying in a hotel in Edinburgh. There was a husband and wife with a two-month-old baby. They had come on one of the UK evacuation flights from Sudan to Cyprus and then Birmingham.

"They lived a few doors down from the second in command of one of the fighting factions in Sudan and were told, we want your house to protect our second in command. They left with just what they had on and a bag and rucksack.

"The Red Cross offers cash assistance so they can make their own choices and have some dignity. But it turned out they didn't have any food and the hotel wasn't providing any. So we went to the supermarket and got them some food and nappies.

"And we gave them some vouchers which they can use to get clothes.

"They were exhausted and the baby was used to being carried about from all the travelling and so she was crying every time they put her down.

"They said every time they shut their eyes they could hear the bombs. The hotel was near the airport and every time they heard a plane they were expecting a bomb to go off. When the baby started going to sleep, she was shaking.

"We reassured them they were safe and they would get sorted out. They already had an appointment with the local authority about accommodation.

"The man studied engineering in Edinburgh and had a company in Sudan. They were very grateful and he was offering his services to the Red Cross with translating. They were delighted to see us.

"I felt very privileged to help them. It makes you realise we should be grateful for all that we have."

Meanwhile at work Christine focuses on resilience of a different kind. “My work is creating and testing plans for the impacts of incidents like severe weather events or a pandemic.

“I have done bomb processes in the past. At a previous place I’ve worked, we had a big atrium and around the time of 7/7 we had an unattended bag and we had to decide whether to evacuate people.

“In the end we didn’t have to do that, but I put forward and implemented a new system where we installed a Tannoy to tell people to come and retrieve their bag.

“With the help of counter terrorism police we put in place a white powder process for the mail room. This is so people know where to set it aside, to call the police and where they go if they need decontamination.

“On another occasion I took a job with a bank in Edinburgh and they were evacuated because of a suspicious package and it turned out they didn’t have a procedure, so I put a suspicious item process in place with X-raying of post.

“I have worked in places where you would have 2,000 people to evacuate onto the street and then you have to think about their welfare and how they are going to get home when their handbags and laptops and jackets are in the office.

“It is called ‘business continuity’ but really it is just resilience planning.

“It’s a job that I find interesting. At least since the pandemic, it is much easier to explain to people what my job is.”

Christine completed a series of training courses with the Red Cross for her new role including core emergency response, first aid, safeguarding, and she also completed Operational Team Leader training which means she can take charge of the Red Cross response to an incident at the scene.

Twice a month Christine is on the rota from 7pm to 7am ready to go to an emergency in the Edinburgh and Lothians area. She could also be called upon to respond, if able, at short notice to an emergency.

The volunteers’ job is to provide practical and emotional support to people following an emergency or major incident, as part of a team with other agencies including police, fire and ambulance.

“We are on a rota so if there is a significant fire for example, and people are out of their homes, the Red Cross will go along and provide tea, shelter, a friendly ear and signposting to other help.

“The Red Cross were at the Manchester Arena bombing and the Grenfell Tower fire and some people from Scotland went down to assist with that.It has been involved with helping people affected by the conflict in Ukraine.

“At the moment the Red Cross is helping to deliver five days’ worth of food to people in a council area near here and I am volunteering to help deliver those to people’s homes.”

Christine’s main task for the Red Cross so far has been helping to manage crowds attending the Queen lying in state at St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, where 33,000 people paid their respects.

“I was marshalling and escorting people and if I saw someone in the queue who was elderly or had mobility problems, I would get them a taxi and help them get further up the queue.

“The difficult bit came when I had to say, I’m sorry the queue is now closed. Some were a bit miffed but then I was able to send them in the best direction where they could see the cortege.

“The people I was speaking to all had different memories of the Queen. It was good to be involved in.”

Her day at the funeral was taken as part of The Cumberland’s community volunteering scheme where staff can spend one day a year working for a good cause.

Christine says she would consider going to international disasters such as the recent earthquake in Turkey and Syria, if she was asked.

Meanwhile, after a river flooded in December reaching the back of her own house, Christine found herself piling sandbags and helping residents. She is now chair of the village’s new Resilient Community Group.

“I’m also an Elder in the church here as well. I have had safeguarding for vulnerable adults and children training for that as well,” she says.

“People and community are important to me, and I get a lot out of helping others.”

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