VITAL STEPS, YEAR AFTER YEAR, FOR 25 YEARS

For almost a quarter of a century, the County Air Ambulance Trust has been providing essential funds that help to save lives. Here are just some of the key milestones that have made a real difference to Air Ambulance crews and their patients in the Midlands and throughout the country.

The idea that an air ambulance could improve patient care in the West Midlands was first muted.

In 1990, Barry Johns, Bob Seaward and Paul Harris are instrumental in introducing an Air Ambulance service in the West Midlands, only the second such operation in the country. The helicopter arrives as part of the West Midlands Ambulance Service (WMAS) but it was stipulated that it was to operate without cost to the NHS.

Using the NHS charity framework, the ‘West Midlands Air Ambulance Appeal Fund’ is established. ‘Air 5 – Flight for Life’ is formally launched on 21st May operating five days a week from Halfpenny Green Airfield, relocating to improved facilities at RAF Cosford later in the year.

In those early days, fundraising was very much hand-to-mouth with the future of ‘Air 5’ far from secure.  WMAS, acting on delegated authority from West Midlands Regional Health Authority (WMRHA) achieved small successes with local initiatives and initial steps in developing a network of volunteer supporters and began negotiations to set up a lottery. However, while an ambulance service could secure a measure of interest and support from local communities, it lacked the necessary ‘asking power’ to establish relationships and credibility with the corporate sector and other potential sources of support.

By autumn 1991, ‘Air 5’ was securing regular media coverage (although less so with income) and began to receive approaches from professional fundraising consultants. Most of these were declined outright due to an unwillingness to commit to any (paid) feasibility studies but a short term (six month) agreement was accepted with one consultancy through the professional fundraiser (Thomas Harland, the Midlands representative of a London-based company).  Attempts were also made to secure wider support – for a short period, Mr Charles Dickie, former Secretary of Birmingham Midshires Building Society became involved – but with very few signs of longer term progress being achievable through that route, the agreement was terminated

At the same time, on the recommendation of Cliff Orme, Chief Ambulance Officer, Hereford and Worcestershire, Mrs Angela Brinton, was approached to assist in developing a fundraising appeal and began to attend regular meetings at WMAS HQ, Dudley, and at Dudley Ambulance Station  where a portakabin was being used as the hub of the ‘Air 5’ appeal. Mrs Brinton had taken the appeal to heart and, over a period of months, secured commitment from a range of contacts including Lady Forester, Lindsay Bury and others to provide funds and/or lend their identity to the appeal. Subsequently when it was thought that the appeal needed some patrons, she approached the five county Lords Lieutenant, who all confirmed their support, together with the then Lord Aylesford.

Some months after the first professional fundraising agreement had been terminated, in June 1992, WMAS was approached by Tony Bateson, an independent professional fundraiser, with an offer to assist the ‘Air 5’ appeal. Various discussions were held with a focus on:

  • Re-branding the appeal from ‘Air 5’ to ‘County Air Ambulance’;
  • Specific initiatives to target corporate sources of income – particularly, a separate body to oversee managed fundraising;
  • Establish a network of collections and collecting boxes.

That informal arrangement (understanding rather than formal contract) continued until early 1993 when some regular income had been secured and a contract was established between WMRHA and Tony Bateson. By this time, Tony’s main focus had shifted to that of setting up an independent charity – a move which led to his initial introduction to Hugh Meynell who remains as our Chairman to this day.

With the change of corporate trustee when WMAS gained NHS Trust status, the existing charity was re-registered as ‘Midlands Air Ambulance Appeal’ recognising the extension of its operational area beyond the original five counties of West Midlands.

Under Hugh’s Chairmanship, a positive working relationship developed between CAAT and WMAS to the benefit of both organisations and, ultimately, to the provision and expansion of the air ambulance service.

That relationship was duly reflected in a memorandum of understanding, signed in 1997, which set out the respective areas of fundraising to be undertaken by each party and contributed to the continuing development of the partnership to the point when NHS ambulance services were reorganised in 2006.

‘Air 5’ is renamed the County Air Ambulance. At a time when the local economy was badly affected by recession, this move played an indispensable part in securing the financial future of the first ‘red’ helicopter flying from Cosford, paving the way for rapid expansion.

County Air Ambulance Trust (CAAT) was formally incorporated in April 1995.

Activities during this period centred on the establishment of the Trust office and a board of trustees to represent each of the counties covered by the air ambulance service.

Fully sponsored office accommodation was agreed with John Harris, the Chairman of South Staffordshire Water plc and their generous financial support and back up facilities was a major contribution to the future success of the Charity.  Hugh Meynell, Paul Harris and John Jones remain on the board of trustees to date. Arthur Worthington also played a key role in its creation and remains as the Trust Administrator today.

The WMAS NHS Trust continued to be responsible for managing the Air Ambulance operation on behalf of the participating ambulance services. With no funding forthcoming from the NHS and a second helicopter planned to come on stream in 1997 it was vital for the income streams established by the WMAS to be supplemented by funds raised from the business sector by the Trust. Our activities during this period centred on the development of managed fundraising programmes within the business sector.

The emergence and development of CAAT coincided, in 1995, with the abolition of Regional Health Authorities whereby responsibility for WMAAAF transferred to WMAS NHS Trust which then took over the contract with Tony Bateson pending incorporation/registration of CAAT.

Tony Bateson felt that fundraising potential could be significantly improved by giving the charity independent status.

With the office arrangements now settled the new Trust was formerly launched at an inaugural event hosted by South Staffordshire Water on 23 April 1996 attended by the Patron, Honorary President, Honorary Chairman, Vice Presidents and the Board of Trustees. At this stage, charitable registration was an outstanding matter but in July, the Charity Commission formally registered the County Air Ambulance Trust as a charity.

For most serious accidents or illness, there is a “Golden Hour” and receiving adequate treatment and reaching a key hospital within this hour dramatically improves the patient’s chances of survival and speed of recovery. The “Golden Hour Appeal” was therefore, registered as a working name with the Charity Commission.

A second helicopter is added and operates five days a week from Defford in South Worcestershire.

With funds donated by the County Air Ambulance Trust, this second helicopter moves to the Strensham Service Area on the M5 and becomes the first Air Ambulance in Europe to be based at such a vital location. It also begins a seven days a week operation.

To help meet the additional flying costs the Trust agreed to start making a monthly contribution towards these higher costs.  The Trustees announced that they would also like to help hospitals throughout the region to upgrade and improve arrival facilities to speed patients safely into emergency care.

Again funded by the County Air Ambulance Trust, a new Visitor Centre and operational base is created at RAF Cosford.

Based at East Midlands Airport and operating five days a week, a third helicopter is introduced to cover Leicestershire and Derbyshire.

Three more years of steady improvement, including in 2001, another first – the introduction of a ‘new generation’ helicopter, the first in England to fly as an Air Ambulance. A specially tailored hangar is also built at RAF Cosford, from funds provided by the County Air Ambulance Trust.

The 28 Strategic Health Authorities are reduced to 10 and the third helicopter is relocated to Tatenhill in Staffordshire.

The HELP Appeal [Helicopter Emergency Landing Pads] is launched. Organised and coordinated by the County Air Ambulance Trust, its focus is to provide significant grants to fund life-saving helipads for Air Ambulances at Major Trauma Centres and key A&E hospitals around the country.

West Midlands Ambulance Service changed the name of its charity from County Air Ambulance to Midlands Air Ambulance to increase the affiliation between the service and the communities it serves.

County Air Ambulance Trust remains unchanged.

In December, Tony Bateson retires as Charity Director, having been responsible, in large part, for steering the charity to its strong and clearly focused standing it enjoys now.

Robert Bertram arrives with a brief to expand upon the achievements already made.

Brand new crew accommodation is provided at Strensham air base.

Brand new crew accommodation is provided at RAF Cosford air base.

Decision is made to expand the HELP Appeal into Scotland.

At the start of the year through the HELP Appeal we will have completed and upgraded a total of 14 vital helipad schemes from Plymouth to Stornaway in the Western Isles with a further 18 planned or in the pipeline

Our plans are ambitious but we are determined to achieve them for the sake of those lives that depend on us.