The North West Blood Bikers have worked around the clock to save countless lives across Lancashire since they were set up five years ago by a retired policeman. James Illingworth finds out more about how they came to be.
Nurses, doctors and medical support staff are often referred to as the nation’s unsung heroes; the beating heart of our NHS.
To say I’m proud of what we’ve done, doesn’t cut it
But there is another service operating even further below the radar. A team of volunteers, often working non-standard hours.
Chances are you will have spotted them while driving on Lancashire’s motorway network but been unaware of their role.
It would be nigh on impossible to calculate how many patients they have helped, or how many lives they have saved.
This year the North West Blood Bikers group celebrated its fifth anniversary. Its growth has gone beyond the expectations of the brains behind it.
And its volunteers’ contribution has received such recognition that its founder tells the Lancashire Post it often embarrasses him, such is his humility.
NWBB started out in 2012 operating exclusively in Preston and Chorley, it has now expanded across the North West.
“We carry blood, platelets, samples for analysis, medication, doctors’ notes, small theatre equipment, donor breast milk for premature babies, in fact, anything that is urgently required at another hospital which will fit safely on a bike,” explains founder, trustee and chairman Paul Brooks.
“We work every evening during the week and from 6:30pm on a Friday to 2am on a Monday morning and 24hrs a day at all Bank Holidays.
“Over our five and a half years we have been called out 42,000 times and are currently averaging 1,100 call outs per month.”
Paul, a retired traffic policeman and motorbike enthusiast since he was a teenager, was crucial to the group’s inception. He retired in 2002 after 30 years service.
Almost a decade later, Paul had by chance spotted something that would spark NWBB’s origin story. A few meetings with NHS officers later, everything was in place.
He says: “I saw an advert for Honda which featured a blood bike, something I had never heard of, simply because there were none in the North of England.
“I made some enquiries and got together with four other keen motorcyclists in August 2011 at Rivington Barn.
“We decided to see if we could start a Blood Bike group around here.
“Initially, we advertised for riders and had meetings with Preston and Chorley Hospitals (Lancashire Teaching Hospitals), who couldn’t believe we would transport urgent items between hospitals for free, because up until then they were having to pay taxis out of hours because their own transport didn’t operate at night or at weekends and Bank Holidays.
“Our offer resulted in a few open mouths as they simply couldn’t believe it.
“We went live in May 2012 and over the first year we were called out 812 times, because we were having to build up a trust with them, basically to prove we could do what we said we’d do.
“During that time, other hospital Trusts became interested and we needed more riders and then controllers and we started to grow. From 20 riders when we started, we now have a membership of 360 volunteers.”
Paul, a dad-of-three and grandfather of six, lives in Clayton-le-Woods and celebrated his 48th wedding anniversary to wife Denise in 2017.
Adding to a year of milestones, NWBB recently moved to a new base.
“Since we started the charity has been registered to my address,” Paul explains. “But in December it moves to our new headquarters in Bamber Bridge, so I can have my house back!
“Many of our riders use their own bikes, all are suitably insured and obviously road worthy and all our volunteer riders have to undergo assessment rides and many are advanced riders.
“We have a fleet of 24 emergency bikes fitted with blue lights and sirens and with the blessing of Lancashire Constabulary we train riders in emergency riding.
“We are very lucky in having several ex-police riders and two who retired from the Police Driving School.”
The five year anniversary has allowed Paul a chance to contemplate how far the group has come.
It now helps out five Trusts and continues to be a vital, behind-the-scenes operation of incalculable worth.
And last year it did emerge from the shadows for a well-deserved day in the spotlight; receiving the Queen’s Award for Volunteers, effectively an MBE for a group rather than one individual.
“Obviously, we’re very proud of that,” Paul says.
“We now cover an area of 3,000 square miles,” he adds.
“In my wildest dreams, I never expected our group to take off like it has.
“We have a fantastic camaraderie and a great team of men and women.
“The hospitals praise us to such an extent that, to be honest, I am embarrassed by what they say.
“To say I am proud of what we’ve achieved doesn’t really meet what I feel.”