Cold, wet and soaking head to toe in mud, I jumped into the river to swim the final stretch before the finish line. I may have been tired and aching, but last month I completed the WolfRun in order to bring vital cash in for LifeForce.
RoSPA’s LifeForce is a community-based volunteer programme that empowers people and communities by giving them the skills, support and knowledge to stay safe in their homes.
I wanted to see just how much of a difference my muddy achievement would make, so I took part in one of LifeForce’s home-checks by visiting a family in Birmingham with Justin, its volunteer manager.
I got to see the programme in action with a family that included an older couple, their daughter and her young son. Once we were welcomed in, we made our way from room to room around the house highlighting potential risks to the family. While we were doing this, I was thinking about how some of the risks Justin was pointing out in this home, actually mirror some of those in my own house.
It dawned on me that I’m also guilty of having too many plugs attached to one extension lead; I often leave things near the stairs with the intention of moving them and then end up tripping over them when I’m in a rush. We think “it’s alright I’ve survived fine in my own home”, but all it takes is that one incident which can change your family’s life forever.
The bathroom was important in this home as it contains a gas boiler; Justin stressed the importance of having a carbon monoxide alarm in the house. A lot of us still have gas boilers and appliances and some even have coal fires in our homes, but how many of us are aware of their dangers and of the silent killer that is carbon monoxide? Part of LifeForce’s role is to inform and educate families on the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning and offering solutions to prevent any tragedies.
Justin checked each of the windows. These windows had catches to restrict how far they could open, which we were happy to see, as it is easy for curious children to climb. What Justin was mainly looking for was the blind cord arrangement – whether they had any, how long they were and more importantly if there was a potential risk of strangulation for the young child. RoSPA is aware of at least 28 cases of death by blind cord strangulation amongst children under the age of five. Each case could have been prevented and LifeForce wants to ensure that this never happens to any of the families it visits. This particular family had two windows with blind cords and although there was a safety device attached to the first, it was broken and there was a piece missing. Justin noted to send them some cleats so that the cords could be tied up out of reach from an inquisitive child.
The kitchen can also be a dangerous place for children, as witnessed in this home. We noticed a few medications left on the side plus cleaning products on the window ledge and sharp knives left out both on the worktop and in the sink. We often leave harmful things out on surfaces and in easily accessible cupboards but children are curious and can be easily poisoned or cut. Knives in the sink are particularly dangerous as a child may innocently wash their hands and receive a nasty surprise. LifeForce is there to reiterate the importance of keeping harmful substances and objects locked away and out of sight from little hands.
We ended the tour in their garden. At this stage the family shared their worries about the safety of the garden and how sad it is that they can’t let their little boy play outside without constant concern for his wellbeing. The pond, which the child had already fallen into twice, was still a potential risk. The pond itself had not been used for quite some time and Justin strongly advised that it could be removed as it remained a danger for the little boy. The other option would be to fit a pond mesh, grille or grid. Aside from the pond, there were large tools and gas canisters outside, which Justin said ought to be locked up carefully in the shed.
So, from my visit I could see first hand the importance of LifeForce – its use in giving practical advice and resources to families that need it. After all, who wouldn’t want to keep their children safe? Who wouldn’t want to prevent a nasty injury or worse to their loved ones in their own home? As I walked away it left me thinking, I hope the family take on board some of Justin’s advice as it would be tragic for anything to happen to them. I also realised that I really need to get home and make some serious safety changes myself!
Tess Bowen, campaigns and fundraising assistant