A POTTED HISTORY OF AN INCREDIBLE CHARITY
In 1991, the Board of the Lincolnshire Ambulance NHS Trust, of which our first Chairman; the late John Hill was a member, decided to explore the possibility of providing an Air Ambulance for the county. John took on this task and started by having talks with a helicopter provider at Doncaster Airport. It was decided that the service would cost £600,000 per year and that it would be best to lease the service rather than buy a helicopter.
This initial £600,000 represented £1 a year for every head of the population in Lincolnshire at that time. John’s first job was to recruit a Board of Trustees and to recruit a fundraiser. Dr Alan Sagar, still a member of our Trustees today, played a key role during the early inception of our service, with an ambition to help integrate and improve services for the local communities. Dr Sagar gave many public speeches to support the introduction of a Lincolnshire Air Ambulance together with Mike Gillon, the first ambulance officer to head up the clinical team. Ian Massey and Dr Cyril Nyman were two more devoted promoters.
By early 1992 the Board of Trustees was all in place and fundraising started. Our first fundraiser, Thirza Hart, started recruiting volunteers, one of whom still works for us today, Judy Johnston. Thirza started on a county-wide programme with the team to publicise the Charity. Our first charity Headquarters were humble to say the least, including various Portakabins and even a caravan! Our first donation was £50 cash posted through the letter box of Horncastle Ambulance Station by an elderly couple who had just married. This was a wedding present they apparently had no need for, but we clearly did!
By April 1994 it was decided that the only way to boost the donations to a level such that it would match the anticipated monthly outgoings, was to start flying. The charity had sufficient money for about 3 months’ operations and decided that this would up our game. The next task was choosing a suitable helicopter service provider. This proved difficult but with the considerable help of fellow Trustee, John Morgan, we eventually managed to negotiate an acceptable agreement with Medical Aviation Services, (MAS), to provide the service, initially using a Bolkow helicopter. We have remained with MAS as our supplier to this day.
An arrangement with RAF Waddington was negotiated for us to fly from there, until we found something more permanent. Needless to say, we’re still there, and are very grateful for it!
The service first became available on 3rd April 1994. We flew our first airlift on 13th May and were able to maintain this for just 4 months until we finally ran out of funds and the service was temporarily withdrawn. We managed, through the help of one of our Trustees, Paul Croft, to obtain sponsorship from Standard Group newspapers initially for a year, but eventually extending to 2 years, which provided a great boost to our profile.
The grounding of the service proved to be beneficial in raising our profile because people now had a taste for what could be done, and we quickly recovered the situation. It wasn’t until 29th March 1995 that we were once again in a position to re-launch the service. Not long after that, the charity began at last to receive sufficient income to match the outgoings on a monthly basis.
The Lincolnshire Farming community became great supporters of the charity in its early days, and this trend for rural support has continued with some substantial on-going fundraising from the Nottinghamshire Farmers Countryside Appeal, (NAACA), which continues to this very day.
As these funds started to come in an administrator was appointed in 1995 to manage the finances, Maggie Woodward, who remained with us for over 13 years. We then decided to approach the Nottingham Ambulance Service to seek their agreement to extend our service to take in the two counties, thereby increasing our fundraising base substantially. This was agreed and in 1996 two members of their Board joined us as Trustees. With this came an offer from the Nottingham Post to provide sponsorship and, again, this was extended for 2 years, which helped to establish a strong presence in Nottinghamshire. We also appointed an additional fundraiser for Nottingham, bringing the total paid staff to 4.
In 1998 John handed over as Chairman to Allan Blackley and it was under his governance that the first CEO; Peter Aldrick was appointed in September 1999. Many people have since played long and varied roles in supporting the charity, too many to mention by name.These include the many dedicated paramedics, pilots and doctors, of which there have been over 30.
In 2000 the charity opted to move to a new generation of aircraft, the MD902 Explorer, G-LNAA, which was from the same production line as the one supplied to London HEMS. Around the same time, the team behind our Air Ambulance helped set up a national network of Air Ambulances – the National Association of Air Ambulance Services, (NAAAS). The Association of Air Ambulances(AAA) is the body which now represents nearly all the UK Air Ambulance Services.
In November 2010, the existing helicopter contract was due to expire and the Board of Trustees, decided to continue with what had proved to be the best type of helicopter to provide the level of patient care necessary at that time. Consequently, an updated MD 902 helicopter was obtained on lease from MAS. G-LNCT was launched to great acclaim at two locations, Nottingham Castle, and later the same day, at Tattershall Castle in Lincolnshire.
In October 2013, after significant training and following full CAA approval, G-LNCT was given the all clear to start limited night-flying operations. This has proved to be yet another major milestone in the charity service, resulting in additional emergency cover for patients affected after dark.
The MD902 Explorer served the Charity well for many years. In 2015 the bold decision was taken to upgrade to an AgustaWestland 169 – a top of the range Helicopter Emergency Medical Service aircraft. This new state of the art helicopter came into service at the Charity in June 2017.
The expansion of the operations means that the charity now needs to raise £2.5m a year in order to keep the service running. The charity now has a total of 27 staff spread across the 2 counties and over 500 fantastic volunteers who help them make it all possible.
We remain reliant on donations and we are still non-government funded, but the incredible passion and loyalty of everyone involved, from crew to trustees, charity teams, volunteers and fundraisers, keeps the charity going from strength to strength. We have now flown over 18,200 missions since that first airlift in 1994, and have literally changed and helped to save thousands of lives.
Current Trustees of the charity are: Joint Chairman: Jack O’Hern and Jonty Pearson, Vice Chairman: Paul Croft and Andrew Pearce, Trustees: Dr Alan Sagar, Graham Secker, Dr Bob Winter, Penny Would and Lucie Briggs.