Volunteer to help air ambulance

Volunteer to help air ambulance

9 May 2018

TASKED on over 280 missions since it launched in July last year, Air Ambulance Northern Ireland has quickly become an indispensable lifesaver.

From its base in Lisburn, a medical team that includes six full-time paramedics and 15 doctors can reach anywhere in Northern Ireland in approximately 25 minutes.

However, such a comprehensive service costs money — £2m a year and 400 volunteers to be precise — and two local women are at the centre of trying to raise these essential resources.

Colleen Milligan, from Castlewellan, and Grace Williams, from Ballynahinch, are two of four area fundraising managers.

Colleen, AANI Area Fundraising Manager for Down and Armagh, joined the team after working for a mental health charity.

“I think AANI is a very positive charity providing a vital service for Northern Ireland,” she said. “One of the main reasons I got involved is that is I live in Castlewellan, and the first casualty the charity lifted was Conor McMullan, an 11 year-old child from Castlewellan.”

Conor was involved in a farming accident in July 2017 and taken to Belfast in an eight-minute flight that would have taken up to an hour by road.

“That could have been anyone in my family,” said Colleen. “There are poor roads here and if you need emergency care or don’t have the Downe A&E it is worrying.”

Part of Colleen’s job is getting out and about locally to raise awareness about the service. It’s a role she says she has thrown herself in to.

“I am a passionate person and I couldn’t work for a place that wasn’t passionate,” she said. “I work extremely hard. I am out most nights and weekends. 

“It costs £5,500 a day to run the service. It is really about getting into the heart of the community and I have found the response of the community to be fantastic.

“I go and visit a lot of schools, for example. This is our service. This is an emergency service for Northern Ireland and we have to fight to keep that.”

Colleen has a number of volunteer roles coming up locally and would be keen to hear from anyone who can help.

“A range of volunteer roles are available to suit your skills and time available,” she said. “For example, it may be that you want to help at a couple of events each year, or you could volunteer in your own time, placing collection boxes in your own community.

“Or it may suit you to undertake training to become a community volunteer, where you would be proactively speaking about the charity and encouraging local support. We are also keen to develop a number of voluntary fundraising groups in Northern Ireland, so there are plenty of opportunities.

“For those who want to support the charity but cannot volunteer, we’d encourage you to become a member of Club AANI. For a weekly donation of just £2, Club AANI members will receive free branded goodies, on-going discounts from high street retail brands, as well as merchandise offers, and an invitation to our annual members’ event. It’s a simple way to donate and we hope those who can join will do so.”

Grace Williams, AANI Area Fundraising Manager for Belfast and Antrim, came to her role after working with Marie Curie Cancer Care for 10 years.

“I gained a wealth of experience there and really learnt on the job, she said. “I come from Newcastle originally and the emergency services are huge in Newcastle with the RNLI, mountain rescue, etc.

“I have always volunteered, with the MS Society, for example, and old people’s groups. I believe you can make a key difference.”

Grace said living locally meant she was very conscious of the worry surrounding limited A&E care at the Downe Hospital.

“Coming from Newcastle you were always aware that in that situation the nearest hospital is Belfast,” she said. “You think — would you make it there in time?

“With the Air Ambulance, you’re bringing an actual A&E department directly to the patient. 

“I wanted to be involved at the start of it really. My father-in-law is in the motorbiking community and I have known the need for it for a long, long time.

“I think people think we are part of the NHS but we have to work hard, we are a charity. It is really about trying to change that perception.”

Grace said when she was looking for volunteers she didn’t look to put people in specific roles.

“If a primary school teacher contacted me, I would see, for example if she could do talks with school groups,” she said. “Everybody has their own strengths, and I would want to use them rather than put people in a box.

“I also think volunteering is good for your soul. Just giving back to your local community — that’s something everybody should be doing, particularly young people.

“You don’t really understand something unless you see it through other people’s eyes. It helps develop you as an individual.”

Anyone wishing to know more about volunteering opportunities can contact Air Ambulance Northern Ireland by email at info@airambulanceni.org or by telephone on 028 9262 2677.