The Yorkshire Air Ambulance at the Nostell Estate
Peter Sunderland, MBE, DL is Chairman of the Yorkshire Air Ambulance (YAA). This vital charity started in 2000 with just one helicopter and one crew. According to Peter, its rapid growth and success have happened entirely thanks to the people of Yorkshire and their support over the last twenty years. We spoke to Peter about why they chose to have a base at the Nostell Estate, the work they do here and how businesses can continue to support the YAA.
How long has the YAA had a base at Nostell?
It all began in 2013. Lord St Oswald kindly agreed not to charge rent while we renovated the Old Rose garden site here at the Nostell Estate. We renovated all of the offices at the front so that they were suitable for what we needed to use them for, such as a boardroom and training room, with sim bodies for the critical care paramedics. We recently added a reception area too which we’ve kept separate from the operations side. In that sense, it’s a bit like an airport, with space for staff to work and a welcoming space for visitors.
What attracted you to be based here?
We had one helicopter for a long time at Leeds Bradford Airport (LBA), but it’s notoriously bad for weather and the helicopters can’t fly in poor conditions. They didn’t charge take-off or landing fees for an emergency, which helped keep costs down. However, we wanted somewhere more central to West & South Yorkshire, and South of the M62. When I met The Lord St Oswald at a ‘Bishop’s Breakfast’ in Wakefield, I discussed the situation with him, and he asked if we’d considered the Nostell Estate. He showed us around a few sites, including the disused Rose Garden and one of the farms. It was ideal because the weather is much better here. We made it clear that we’re not an airport, and therefore would be flying just six to eight times a day, and got a positive response from the planners in Wakefield. Having settled on an agreement with Lord St Oswald, we created an air base, which has turned out to be a huge success. We cover all the Yorkshire regions, and sometimes outside the County, if there’s a catastrophe we’re able to step in and help.
What is it like being based here?
The support we’ve had here at the Nostell Estate has been fantastic. Lord St Oswald is more than a landlord, he’s a friend. He’s been so supportive, giving us an excellent commercial deal, both at the outset and on an ongoing basis. The rent has benefited Nostell Estate too, but it really helps us as a charity, not having to pay huge amounts of rent.
What do the team do from here?
There’s a critical care paramedic on the Airdesk, constantly monitoring the incidents coming in to the West Yorkshire Ambulance Service. Under normal circumstances, we work two shifts from the Nostell Airbase – from 06:00 – 15.30pm and then 15.30pm until 24:00. Each one is staffed with two critical care paramedics. A doctor also works every day from 09:00 21:00 to ensure full medical care is available if needed. We cover such a big part of the county, which is also very rural. In bad weather it could take a land ambulance forty-five minutes to get to an incident, while we might take 10-15 minutes, and we’d be able to land in snow.
How are the team coping this year with Covid-19? How has your work been impacted?
Initially, the Government would not allow any air ambulances to carry any patient to hospital. We were able to attend emergencies but could not take people to hospital. Fortunately, they relaxed that rule quite quickly. Since then we’ve introduced PPE, screens and cleaning processes to keep everyone safe. We do have to spend considerably more time cleaning, sanitising and preparing the aircraft now before it can go to another incident, if a patient has been carried who is suspected to have Covid 19.
Like many charities, our fundraising initially took quite a hit. In the first six months of 2020, we were below on our budget expectations. However, we receive a good number of legacies (gifts in wills), and between those and our investments, we are managing the situation more favourably than many other charities. Christmas is always a very busy time for our donations, and we’ve been so glad to see people continuing to donate to the YAA this winter, buying our Christmas cards and pledging their support.
We made a decision very early not to furlough any staff. We’ve always been prepared, and if necessary we’ll have to use some of our reserves – that’s what they’re there for.
What are the long term plans moving forwards?
There are two new developments we’re looking forward to in 2021. Firstly, we’re offering more training for the critical care paramedics and doctors at the Nostell Airbase. While in the past our work was more about getting patients to hospital quickly, these days we offer something closer to a major trauma unit at the roadside. Our doctors can do a thoracotomy (opening the chest) if someone’s heart has stopped, and even put someone to sleep. But those are skills that must be learned for specific circumstances. One of our doctors explained: “it’s one thing putting someone to sleep on an operating table, it’s quite another on the roadside, in the dark and the rain”.
Before Covid-19, we decided to order some promotional vehicles, configured like the helicopters to run educational trips at schools and also for use at general fundraising events. They’re expensive, and they were delayed due to the Coronavirus pandemic. However, they’ve just arrived and we’re really looking forward to taking those out and about next year once restrictions allow. We’re incredibly grateful for the sponsorship from the Yorkshire Freemasons and B Braun, a company based in Sheffield.
How else can businesses support the work the YAA is doing?
We have a variety of sponsorship deals, including for businesses to have their logos on the side of the helicopters. We’ve been overwhelmed at how many more sponsors want to come on board. We have a lot of different packages to suit every budget and opportunities to become a business partner.
The biggest thing businesses can do for us is helping to spread the word about what we do and what we can achieve. When I first started, if you asked people “Who funds the air ambulance?” the majority would respond by saying the NHS. However, people now realise it’s not. The big message we’ve managed to get across is that we only exist thanks to the support of people and what they’re prepared to donate. When they see more rescues and lives saved, they want to get involved and raise funds.