Life is a Challenge!

By Honeycombebeach


Today was the day of the postponed visit to the Wiltshire Air Ambulance  HQ at Semington, and having persuaded Mr. HCB to go through all his books and jigsaw puzzles, he got rid of donated six boxes of books and puzzles to the Wiltshire Air Ambulance Charity Shop at Devizes.  We left quite early because we decided to make a day of it and after dropping off the boxes, found Madies, a little café in Devizes, which looked good.  As I was standing by the counter, a lady said that she recognised me - and it transpired we had met several years ago through a mutual friend.  She and her husband came from Swindon and go to a church I went to many years ago, so it was great to catch up with her and we had a lovely chat over lunch.

Then it was on to the HQ for our visit.  We had been invited by Sue and Lyn from the Ridge Coffee Club, as the Wiltshire Air Ambulance is the charity that they have adopted, and in a year, they have raised over £1,000, a wonderful contribution.  Sue had asked me along as a “Roving Reporter” for Swindon 105.5, the local Radio Station, and had checked that they would be happy for me to interview some of the staff today.  Sue certainly knows how to keep the staff happy, because she had made two large cakes for them - her cakes are delicious and there was a smile on Des’s face when he realised that one of them was his favourite, a lemon drizzle cake!

We had a wonderful tour of the building, which is a new purpose-built building, and saw the Operations Room, an immersive Training Room and then we were taken through the very large hangar, and then outside to see the helicopter.  It’s not their proper one, which is being serviced at the moment, but Keith Mills, known as "Millsie", one of the paramedics was great as he told us all about the helicopter, how it worked, how long it took them to get airborne after a call, and the fact that they flew not just in Wiltshire but to adjoining counties too.

We were encouraged to take as many photographs as we liked, and our tour party, consisting of eight of us, was taken round by Millsie, shown wearing a pair of the fingerless gloves I had made in the Wiltshire Air Ambulance colours, at the top left of the collage, Lauren, who is the Digital Media and Marketing Co-ordinator and Des, the Fundraising Manager at the headquarters - shown in the middle left of the collage.  

The top right shot shows Lyn and Sue with Des, presenting one of her wonderful Diamond Paintings, which contains 20,000 tiny “diamonds” and took her 30 hours to complete.  In the middle left photograph is Lauren, Millsie and Des, with another lady, whose name I forgot to get, from the fund-raising team.  They were delighted with the picture and said they will get it framed and hung outside the Training Room.  They were also pleased with the gloves, and the “unknown” lady said that they would be very useful when they go to outside events when they get very cold hands, but needed to have their fingers free to use iPads!

The bottom left shot shows our group standing outside the helicopter, with Sue and Lyn holding the extra-size cheque for £1,000 - and the bottom right shows Elvis Costello, one of the pilots - I was going to ask if that was his real name, but it seemed rather rude to do that, so I didn’t!

When we were in the immersive Training Room, a call came in and Millsie had to dash out ready for action - of course, we didn’t know the reason for the call, as it was confidential, but we all ran along the corridors and then had a “birds-eye” view from the second floor as the helicopter took off.  From the time Millsie ran out of the room until the helicopter took off was less than 3 minutes!  Although it was sad to think that Millsie, Elvis and Fred were going out to an accident, it was great to see them in action.

We then milled around for a while and as the person in charge of the Operations Room had gone home sick, Des and Lauren said they would be happy for me to interview them, so while the others carried on chatting we went into one of the nearby offices.

I had prepared some questions, so showed them to Des and Lauren so that they had some idea of the sort of thing I would be asking.  Lauren has only been part of the Wiltshire Air Ambulance Team for two months, so was a little nervous, so being able to show her the questions was great and she sounded very confident when she was speaking.  Des was obviously an “old hand” at it but I made him laugh later when I said that it had been interesting watching him describe things by moving his arms and hands around - bearing in mind it would be going out on radio - and he laughed too.

During the time we were there, we learned that the Air Ambulance is allowed to fly for up to 19 hours each day - they start at 8 a.m. and finish at 3 a.m.  Because of regulations they are not allowed to fly for 24 hours, and have realised that the quietest time for them is between 3 a.m. and 8 a.m.  They also have two rapid response cars, funded by Swindon Town Football Club, in the Wiltshire Air Ambulance colours of green and yellow.

All the money raised covers the Air Ambulance and the equipment and as they have no Government or Lottery funding, the Wiltshire Air Ambulance charity is funded completely by donations;  they need £3.75 million every year to keep the Air Ambulance flying, which is the equivalent of £10,000 per day.  The crew that goes out consists of one pilot, many of whom are ex-military pilots, and three paramedics, who are trained, incidentally, to Masters Degree standard.  There is a team ethos between them, and they all know and understand their role within that team.  The helicopter flies at 150-160 mph and from their base at Semington can reach Swindon in 10 minutes.  

As well as the staff at the Headquarters, they rely very much on volunteers, who make a massive difference, together with two charity shops at Devizes and Westbury, and Des said that they are happy to show groups of people round on Wednesdays and Fridays, so that the general public is aware of all that goes on and how important it is to keep the Air Ambulance flying.

It was a truly wonderful day and I now need to get knitting to raise more money for this wonderful charity.

This quote is written large on the wall in the atrium, where the staff rest and relax - great words!

“Work for a cause, 
     not for applause. 
Live life to express, 
     not to impress. 
Don’t strive to make your presence noticed, 
     just make your absence felt.”

P.S.  Thank you for all your lovely comments, stars and hearts for yesterday's Blip - all very much appreciated.  

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