Week 17 - Great Western Air Ambulance
So you're on your way home from work, thinking about that dinner you have to prepare, as your guests arrive in about an hour. You're pushing a little harder on the pedal than you usually would, but hey, you're in a rush. All of a sudden everything goes black, your head is pounding and you can't remember what happened. But, you can hear is the sound of blades chopping in the wind.
Accidents happen all the time, unfortunately more than you would like to know. But when they do there is a hospital in the sky that swoops down and does it's very best to save your life.
This week my journey took me to Bristol to visit the Great Western Air Ambulance. The GW Air Ambulance is only one of the few air ambulances across the UK and guess what. It's a charity. Yes, that's right folks. It's not NHS funded and does not come out of your taxes. It is in fact a fully fledged, 100% donation led charity. Very much hidden in plain sight, the air A&E is ready and waiting to rescue you at a moments notice.
It's an interesting one to be honest, because we all know what the air ambulance is, but what most people don't realise is that it's a charity. I guess we all just assume and almost take for granted that if something seriously went wrong in our daily lives, our local hospital would send the air ambulance to save us. Even I thought that was the case. Even I naively thought that all big hospitals had a helicopter on top of their hospital waiting to set off whenever a 999 call was dialled in. I legitimately had no idea, until I saw them on my list of charities to visit this year, that they are a charitable run organisation.
I was pretty excited about this week. Like a big kid going to see a massive toy I had never been near a helicopter before so the excitement of seeing one was childishly on the top of my list for the week. So, when I arrived at 9.30am on Monday and Ella said that we were heading straight over to the base I did my very best to conceal my inner child from screaming. She did however pre-warn me that they only had 1 helicopter and that it was a working vehicle from 7am-7pm so it may or may not be there. (I crossed my fingers the whole journey).
GWAAC (Great Western Air Ambulance Charity) operate out of an old unused airfield with the police on the outskirts of Bristol. An incredibly secure facility with a long winding drive; it is the home to the famous GWAAC helicopter. Believe it or not they don't own the helicopter, they rent it out; Including the pilot (which of course needs to be paid) it costs just over £2m a year to keep it in the air and saving lives. That's £2m they need to find from just 5 counties, Gloucestershire (my home county) included. It's an awful lot of money to raise from a small area, but to be quite frank, it is probably one of the most vital service charities I have visited and probably will be this whole year. Without this helicopter, thousands of people over the past 6 years would have lost their life. Fact.
What amazed me most, were the doctors. These men and women are at the top of their profession; most of them being either consultants or near consultant level. Yet, they give up 2 days a month to volunteer, yes, volunteer for GWAAC. The doctors and senior paramedics are not paid to work for the air ambulance; they give up time from their insanely busy lives to help. Because of that, GWAAC is able to give critical care at the scene of an accident, and on occasion, have given open-heart surgery on the side of the road. So for all of you who throught that it just came and picked you up and dropped you off at the nearest hospital, you are wrong. They bring the hospital to you. So to be frank, if you are going to have a pretty serious accident, make sure it's bad enough for these guys to come out to you. Because your chances of survival dramatically increases when this bad boy is called to your rescue!
As well as spending my time at the airbase I also helped out in the GWAAC office. Filled with a lovely bunch of people I felt right at home. Working week on week with a different charity, I can sometimes feel like a nomad. Travelling around the UK popping in and out of so many different places can be little unsettling, but, as soon as I walked through the door of GWAAC the kettle was put on and it felt like I had been there for years.
Like most charities their size they their struggles. Having built up a very strong fundraising team they were well on their way to nailing a commercial income strategy. However, they also needed a little direction in other areas. Having now been to 16 other charities my knowledge of the sector grows exponentially every single week. So, I was able to lend a little help and advice to the Great Western Air Ambulance mainly in the marketing and social media departments.
Getting the word out there for any charity can be tough. Appealing to the general public's softer nature to evoke an emotional attachment to a charity is a tried and tested model, which, in all fairness, does work. But there is a fine balance. Making sure that you are not constantly bombarding people is a difficult line. I gave a string of interviews this week across the BBC and ITV helping promote GWAAC to the 5 counties they service (the biggest area of any UK air ambulance) and tried to take a more educational stance. Informing people that GWAAC is a charity and that it will be there, if heaven forbid, you ever needed it. See, that's the thing with a charity like this. If the service wasn't there we would all miss it. Yet, trying to encourage people to fundraise for it, for an accident that has yet to happen, is pretty damn tough.
I saw this first hand on Wednesday afternoon when Ella, Ollie and I went over to the bath racecourse to chug buckets and help raise some cash, grass roots style. Well, that has to be one of the hardest £200's I have ever earned. Bless Ella, she even donned their mascots outfit (Charlie the Care Bear) in the heat to attract some cash. You of course get the odd £1 flung into the bucket but most people see you as a nuisance. The lowest of the low trying to take their money; along with a string of other charities. Now please excuse the expression but its true. We all hate being stopped in the middle of the street to sign up to regular giving or 'spare some change' for a vital and much needed urgent cause. But, it does in all fairness yield money, that's why charities do it.
I finished up my week by compiling my thoughts and sharing cake with the team to celebrate John, the Chief Exec's birthday. I will go away from the Great Western Air Ambulance having not only learned a great deal but having gained a few more friends. A wonderful yet vital charity that really does need every single persons support. Because, you never know, one day you might need them to save your life.