Helicopter crews with a lifesaving North East charity have taken delivery of essential new safety equipment thanks to a four-figure grant obtained through its local Newcastle Building Society branch.

The Great North Air Ambulance Service (GNAAS) provides a full helicopter emergency medical service which covers 8,000 square miles across the North East and Cumbria, swiftly bringing pre-hospital care to those in urgent need.

Now operating more hours and seeing more patients than ever before, GNAAS recently expanded its team to include three more Air Ambulance Doctors.

As part of providing for their safety both in the air and on the ground, three new flight suits were required to ensure the crew is effectively protected against the elements whatever the weather and to increase their visibility even in low light.

To enable the purchase of the flight suits, GNAAS was awarded a £1,058 grant via Newcastle Building Society’s Ponteland branch, close to its forward operating base at Newcastle International Airport.

The funding has been provided by the Newcastle Building Society Community Fund at the Community Foundation, which was set up to offer grants to charities and community groups located in or around the communities served by the Society’s branch network, and put forward for support by its customers.

GNAAS has two staffed bases, at Langwathby near Penrith and Teesside International Airport near Darlington, and operates three helicopters, each of which has an onboard team consisting of a pilot, a specialist pre-hospital doctor and a paramedic.

Each flight suit, which costs over £350, comprises a flight top, flight trousers and knee and elbow pads and is designed so it can easily be adapted to different weather conditions.

Crews can work in temperatures of over 30 degrees in summer and, in winter, regularly operate in sub-zero conditions, sometimes as low as minus 20 with the added wind chill.

 

The service cost £5.3m last year alone, and receives no statutory funding, meaning it relies entirely on donations, fundraising and grants.

Andy Mawson, director of operations at the Great North Air Ambulance Service, says: “These specialist flight suits are absolutely essential equipment for our crew members. They are made of the same material that a Formula One driver would wear, making them not only very safe but also hard wearing.

“Their adaptable design is essential as our Air Ambulance Doctors can go from treating a patient in a cosy living room to being on a cold mountain edge during an average shift, and they need to be comfortable working in both environments.

“We’re very grateful to the Society for helping us continue our work through this donation. Transporting patients at 190mph saves time, but what really saves lives is our critical care team and these flight suits are crucial to their work.”

Since its launch in 2016, Newcastle Building Society’s Community Fund has contributed over £1.8m in grants and partnerships with the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and the Princes Trust. The grants are so far estimated to have had a positive impact on more than 151,000 people.

The most recent application period saw 42 projects that had been nominated by Society customers, receiving a total of £92,514 between them.

Grant applications for a maximum of £3,000 can be made at any time in any Society branch or via the newcastle.co.uk website by customers who wish to support their local communities.

Charlotte Williams, manager at Newcastle Building Society’s Ponteland branch, adds: “The Great North Air Ambulance provides vital support across 8,000 square miles of our heartland which any of us could need at any time.

“Playing an active role in our communities is a core part of who we are and we’re very proud to help the service continue its important work.”

The Newcastle Building Society Community Fund is run in association with the Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland.