I’m a big sports fan… massive. I generally would be happy to watch any sports. Football and boxing have got to be my two favorite but when it comes to atmosphere and excitement, horse racing really gives these two a run for their money (pun intended).
So imagine my delight when St John Ambulance (SJA) kindly invited someone from the Wesser team to observe the final day of the Cheltenham Festival! I was dead chuffed and set about deciding which scarf to wear with my carefully put together Cheltenham attire. I arrived bright and early to the racecourse. It’s very different at that time in the morning, with the bright sun falling across the grounds and a small buzz of people arranging the final bits for the final day. I was greeted by Kevin Dickens – a Community Fundraising Coordinator, who is my main liaison with the charity in South West England – and he introduced me to Beth, an advanced First Aider who was happy to answer my hundreds of questions.
The main base where I met them was actually rebuilt not so long ago; when it was, SJA volunteers were consulted on how it should be built to such a degree the building entrance was moved 90 degrees for easier access. In this main treatment centre you would find four beds, two doctors, some nurses, a handful of paramedics, advanced first aiders and the emergency transport guys. The ambulance crew is also based out of this centre and it’s all to look after the public and staff (jockeys have a separate private treatment centre). Rick Dean, a nurse, was one of the main people to influence this and he explained that the treatment centre could treat pretty much anything except for a major trauma.
Top of the agenda of the day was the morning briefing which I felt privileged to listen in on. Straight up, you notice how jovial everyone is (considering over the next 12 hours they will be giving first aid and, possibly, saving lives). It’s good humored and jokes were in abundance. What also struck me was the ages of the volunteers, with maybe a 50 year spread from youngest to oldest. As well as the enjoyment the guys obviously get from what they do, their instructions are clear. What amazed me the most was the code words used for preparation for evacuation and if an evacuation is cancelled. I of course cannot give this confidential information away but it was interesting to see what goes on behind the scenes of one of the country’s biggest sporting events.
Other privileged highlights were seeing the control centre with its banks of computers monitoring each and every face coming into the grounds. The control centre has police, ambulance, fire and three different security firms – not forgetting the mighty SJA! Also seeing what is the busiest helipad in Europe over those four days is also quite something; you actually see a mechanical bird landing every five minutes to drop off another celebrity!
The SJA Cycle Response Units have everything a normal ambulance has but on a bike! These guys impress me no end, being as fit as I could only dream of. Riding a bike with flashing lights and all the equipment to save a life.
Overall, what struck me the most though was the amount of hours given up over the four days of the Cheltenham Festival; 42 volunteers each day, giving up to 10 hours a day. That’s over 2,000 hours given up without even thinking about the preparation hours and the meetings afterwards. It’s a huge event for SJA but they handle it with the same great attitude and professionalism as any other events. These green jacketed men and women truly are heroes – on call and ready for anything from heart attacks and broken bones to infected corns and people who have drunk one to many glasses of champagne!
If I had won some money too, it would have been a perfect day, but I will settle for truly inspirational one.
Article by James Dennis – Snr Fundraising Campaign Coach