'I don't know how I would have managed without the Red Cross'

Published date: 01 April 2014 |
Published by: Rhian Waller 
Read more articles by Rhian Waller  Email reporter


At first glance, Iliff does not look like a man who recently needed a helping hand.

At almost 7ft tall, the 75-year-old Cilcain dweller cuts a vigorous and vivid figure, capable of chopping wood and walking the long path to his isolated home with ease.

But, shortly after Christmas Iliff Simey had a mini-stroke, leading doctors to take his driving licence away.

This left him stranded, miles away from any shops and heavily reliant on a network of friends as he has no family in the area.

“I don't know how I’d have managed,” he said, “if it hadn’t been for the Red Cross.

“I have many good friends, but there is a limit to how much you can put on them, and many of them work during the day.

“The main problem was bringing food in. It made me realise just how dependent I was on being able to drive. To begin with, I didn’t want to face the possibility that my licence could be permanently removed.”

Iliff suffered a stroke without even realising the bleed on the brain had taken place.

He said: “The first thing I noticed was that I was holding my key fob by the car and I couldn’t remember what to do with it. Then the fog cleared and I got on with things.

“Then, when I tried writing something on my computer, everything I typed came out wrong. It didn’t matter what key I hit, the wrong character appeared on screen.”

Iliff ended up going into the Wrexham Maelor Hospital, where he was kept under observation for four days and then allowed back home, minus his licence.

It was the hospital that signposted him to the Red Cross.

Iliff, a former architect who has spent time abroad in places like Lesotho in Africa, was initially reluctant to contact the organisation.

He said: “It seemed like a bit of a big deal to call the Red Cross.

“You think of them working with refugees and in places stricken with famine, not with people living in a little valley in North Wales.

“But I would have struggled without them.”

Thomas Hughes, service development manager for the British Red Cross, who is based at the Wrexham Maelor Hospital, visited Iliff recently to find out how he is doing.

He said: "We regard each referral seriously. We will go out on the same day if needed.

“Some people will leave hospital after a long stay and they will go home to a cold room, with no food, no heating, nothing.

“In Iliff's case, we were there to make sure he had access to town. We could give him a lift into Mold so he could pick up supplies and help him carry them up the lane.

“What we were concerned about was that we could provide support for six weeks, perhaps a little longer, but Illif might not get his licence back.”

Iliff said: “One of the best things they did was to sit down with me and start hatching out a plan if the worst happened.

“Thomas sat here and we started to work things out.”

Fortunately, Iliff’s licence was returned.

Thomas said: “To begin with, Iliff was quite down but he’s recovered really well.

“He’s very independent but there are people out there who are not as fit to begin with, or who struggle with things like paperwork, and we can help with that.

“It’s anything from picking up prescriptions to changing a light bulb or putting out the bins.

“It’s basic stuff – things that neighbours would have done for each other 50 years ago, but we don’t live in that world now.

“These things are important, particularly when someone is recovering from an illness.”

Iliff, a woodsman with an interest in Darwinian ecology, sees things in the long term.

He said: “It’s about sustainability. The Red Cross coming out to help meant that I could go home and look after myself. It meant that I recovered faster. It’s about helping people help themselves.”

Thomas agreed.

He said: “We’re a charity and we do get pubic support but this initiative is mostly funded by the NHS and other public bodies.

“The people who go out to help patients resettle are volunteers.

“The cost really comes down to the price of fuel. It might have cost me about £3 to come here today to check on Iliff.

“But if he had been struggling with food or heating or if he’d started becoming ill and it hadn't been caught in time, then he may have spent more time in hospital, social services may have stepped in, more agencies would have got involved.

“That all costs money. So, for the price of a few car journeys, the Red Cross is probably saving thousands of pounds.

“It’s a case of prevention.”

As for the question of whether the Red Cross has a role to play in the isolated dwellings of rural Flintshire, rather than in the world’s disaster-hit areas, Tom has no doubts.

He said: "An earthquake can be a crisis. A typhoon can be a crisis. But so can a heart attack or a fall for an elderly person living alone.

“You can have a poverty-related crisis.

“So far this year, we’ve helped pensioners whose electricity was cut off in the gales and we’ve helped people referred to the food bank in Mold pick up their packages – because if you can't afford to eat, it’s impossible to find a bus fare.

“I agree with Iliff. Helping people help themselves; that’s the approach we take.”

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