By Elisa Keating, Area Director at Rendall & Rittner (pictured front right)
Working at Rendall & Rittner for over 10 years has been an incredibly rewarding experience, with constant opportunities to learn and progress along the way. I was very grateful to be offered the opportunity to take a six-week sabbatical and to be gifted some time off to reset. I had intended to spend the time exploring Portugal and spending time with family but decided to also use some of my time to support the essential work of Ukrainian Action, a charity dedicated to supporting the survival and recovery of Ukraine.
Jeff Hartman, the Co-Founder and CEO of Ukrainian Action is a friend of a friend and I had therefore previously learnt about the work being undertaken through a fundraising event that I had attended. Jeffrey had volunteered in the Peace Corps and lived with a family in the Ukraine so has a personal connection with the country and considers its communities part of his extended family. Learning more about the war, it became clear to me that the lives of the Ukrainian people there had suddenly been turned completely upside down. One week they had been going to work and living normal lives just like us, and the next they were being conscripted to defend their country. I wanted to help in any way that I could.
When I first volunteered with Ukrainian Action in April 2022 the charity was in its early stages of being formed and operating as a crisis response team which was very intense. It was amazing to witness through a group of volunteers and a network of friends and colleagues how quickly Jeff was able to mobilise and formalise the charity. I was helping with the charity’s admin, covering everything from sourcing aid donations to logistics. When it was time for me to go back to work, I wanted to keep helping alongside my role at Rendall & Rittner.
Following my sabbatical, I spoke to my line manager, Daniel Steer, about what I had been doing and he was keen to get involved too. In December 2022, he took part in a convoy and was able to visit some of the Ukrainian casualties being treated in Polish hospitals. When he got back, he wanted to look for an opportunity for Rendall & Rittner to support the charity too. Dan, Jeff, and I presented the charity’s work to some of the board members and Duncan Rendall was immediately interested in helping.
The enthusiasm from other Rendall & Rittner staff was similar, with many more people wanting to volunteer for the convoy than we could accommodate. It was really a big team effort and there was a great response from everyone, with lots of people supporting the fundraising efforts via our JustGiving page and sourcing aid donations for us to pack in the trucks. Once our team had been randomly selected from those interested, we attended several briefing sessions and Q&As to find out more about the convoy.
Our convoy didn’t get off to the smoothest start, as we lost one of our seven trucks early in the journey. Fortunately, this has since been repaired and will be sent across to Ukraine. The trucks being donated are quite old, so the first day was really spent getting used to driving them and wondering whether or not every little noise was a sign that they were going to break down, but luckily we didn’t have any more incidents!
Going through the freight side of the Channel tunnel with all the lorry drivers was a novel experience. We still had a long way to travel once we’d got to France and although we were travelling in small groups in the trucks, we were able to keep in close contact via walkie-talkies which was great. The first night we were all exhausted when we reached our hotel for the night.
With many of us working from home more frequently, and our team covering people from our London and regional offices, the journey was a good opportunity to get to know each other a bit better. The days were long and there was lots of driving, but there was great comradery, and everyone worked together to ensure everything went smoothly. It was very clear that everyone was focused on what we were trying to achieve. This is an experience that will bond us as a team for the rest of our lives.
The highlight of the trip came on the final day when we handed over the trucks and the supplies to the Ukrainian volunteers in Poland. Before flying back to the UK, we were also able to meet up with the volunteers from Ukraine in a Ukrainian restaurant where we heard their stories.
The trucks are being taken to the west of Ukraine to the frontline for use by NGOs in the evacuation of the wounded. The aid donations we collected included medical supplies, clothes, stationary and colouring books. These were taken to children’s homes in Lviv and Kiev. In addition, more than £28,000 has also been raised for the charity through our JustGiving page.
Following the convoy, it was lovely to hear from Jeff about the impact of our involvement: “We are very appreciative of the vital support of Rendall & Rittner. Together, we are protecting lives and making a difference to numerous Ukrainians who are affected by the continuing humanitarian crisis. Your generous involvement and support enables us to continue providing essential provisions to those who are most vulnerable, and the vehicles are being used to deliver supplies and to help the wounded which will increase the likelihood of their survival. Thank you to everyone at your company!"
Ukrainian Action is an amazing charity that is making a real difference to those living in Ukraine. Convoys like this one are also a real catalyst for team building with everyone united and working together for a clear purpose. I would entirely recommend the experience for those looking to support the Ukrainian people and if anyone has any questions or wants any more information, please email me at email@example.com.
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