‘Travel to learn, return to inspire.’ This is the instruction the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust gives each year to 150 exceptional people from across the UK who are awarded a Churchill Fellowship.
Little did I realise when I was awarded a 2019 Churchill Fellowship, I would be putting into practice my learning within a week of returning from my travels. Back in 2017 whilst studying for my PG Certificate in Emergency Planning, I learnt about the Fellowships – ‘a unique programme of overseas research grants. These support UK citizens from all parts of society to travel the world in search of innovative solutions for today’s most pressing problems’ (Winston Churchill Memorial Trust website).
My interest in volunteers during times of crisis was sharpened by the tragic events of Grenfell Tower where hundreds of spontaneous volunteers from across the UK offered their help. The situation was chaotic, lacked coordination, resources were wasted, and no one appeared to be in control. Research showed other countries had tried and tested plans and so my project theme was set.
The 6-month process involves an initial application, detailed proposals, shortlisting and interview. In 2019, 1800 applications were received, and a 150 Fellowships awarded. Fellowships cover 8 different categories of universal themes in society. My Fellowship award was for travel to USA & Europe investigating the management of volunteers, especially spontaneous volunteers, at disasters.
My interest in volunteers during times of crisis was sharpened by the tragic events of Grenfell Tower where hundreds of spontaneous volunteers from across the UK offered their help.
September 2019: I visited 5 states and met over 25 different organisations. In Georgia, Hurricane Dorian arrived after devastating the Bahamas, the coastal region was evacuated, volunteers staffed Red Cross Emergency Centre as they responded to the thousands of people in need. Spontaneous volunteers were directed to jobs on the ground, packing food and essential supplies, making deliveries or helping with the clean up. It was great to meet these volunteers many of whom used their annual leave to help.
The Community Emergency Response Team is an 8-week programme, training volunteers to respond to disasters in their community. Speaking with volunteers starting out, and those who have subsequently responded to help, I found they were inspiring individuals who shared their experiences and knowledge. In California, volunteers helped with the wildfires that caused such devastation, wiping out hundreds of homes. I met the volunteer leaders who filled 2000 volunteer jobs in 10 days.
In my borough, hundreds of spontaneous volunteers have joined together through Facebook, churches, parishes and community groups to help. Using the learning, we have been able to coordinate their efforts to provide an accessible service of support to residents.
February 2020: I visited the German Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance, speaking at a conference on managing spontaneous volunteers. I undertook academic research with 3 universities, learning from those who have examined incidents identifying best practice. I finished with visits to the World Port of Rotterdam, Amsterdam security region and the Red Cross, who showcased their excellent Ready2Help programme.
Returning home in early March, I became engulfed in the COVID-19 crisis, both with my own Council and as lead for the Local Resilience Forum. I have helped engage the voluntary sector. We have volunteers all over Hampshire helping those in need, delivering food parcels, fetching much needed medicines and providing emotional support for those who are at high risk and self-isolating. In my borough, hundreds of spontaneous volunteers have joined together through Facebook, churches, parishes and community groups to help. Using the learning, we have been able to coordinate their efforts to provide an accessible service of support to residents.
A Churchill Fellowship is a once in a lifetime opportunity and continues beyond the trip itself. It has been an incredible experience meeting so many wonderful and inspiring people. The annual Fellowships are open to any UK citizen over 18.
For more detail please see Melvin’s blog.
Bio: Melvin Hartley is Safety & Resilience manager at Eastleigh Borough Council and Community Resilience lead for Hampshire and IOW Local Resilience Forum. Following a career with Bedfordshire Police and in community safety, he was part of the London Borough of Southwark’s management team for the 2012 Olympics response.
He lives with his partner in his home city of Portsmouth and is a trustee of Pompey in the Community, the charitable arm of Portsmouth FC.
Interested in reading more about volunteering? Read our Q&A with Calum, aged 25, who started volunteering with the Bradford on Avon Town Council Community Emergency Volunteers (CEVs) in February.