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Solidarity: volunteering on the Blood Bikes

A key value at Emmaus Bristol is Solidarity.  This means we look outwards to support those in more need than ourselves.  So you will often find Emmaus Bristol staff and Companions involved in helping other projects, both on a community basis and on their own individual initiative.  Our Community Leader, Dave Perry, talks below about why he volunteers for Freewheelers, an organisation that provides a vital blood bike service to the NHS:

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Last year, after a break of 35 years, I rekindled my love of motorcycling and joined the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) Motorcycle club in Bristol.  During the regular meetings I noticed that there were often Blood Bikes (bikes which transport blood, specimens and other medical supplies for the NHS) amongst the 40 to 50 bikes parked up.  I noticed the riders all had “Volunteer” on their back.  Before then I had no idea that Blood Bikes were ridden by volunteers, despite my time spent working in the ambulance service for the NHS.

This made me think that perhaps I could get involved. After a bit of research, I found that the local area (Bristol, South Gloucestershire, Somerset, Bath, some of Wiltshire) was covered by the Freewheelers Emergency Voluntary Service (EVS). Freewheelers puts on four bikes every night from 7pm until 7am and 24 hours  throughout weekends and Bank Holidays, a North bike, based in the Bristol area, South bike based in the Weston-super-Mare area and an East bike based in the Bath area. The fourth bike covers extra demand and gives any rider that has had a busy time a bit of a rest. Every rider has to be an advanced motorcyclist.

The service is wholly funded by public donations without any funding coming from Government sources.  There are over 40 riders with the Freewheelers EVS and many other volunteers who raise funds and provide the co-ordination for each shift. This consists of receiving the calls from the hospitals and dispatching the most appropriate resource. Co-ordinators are the “unsung heroes” of the charity as they cover all the shifts and deal with every call but are often unseen and hidden from the public who only see the bikers out on the road. 

A shift can be a weekend, from Friday 7pm through to 7am on Monday, or a week shift covering the nights from 7pm to 7am Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday.  A shift is always unique, no two shifts are similar, but we transport blood, drugs, samples, notes, medical equipment, breast milk etc between hospitals, clinics and home addresses. The jobs are classified as Non-urgent, Urgent or Emergency, the latter allowing us to use blue lights  if appropriate, although we do not have the same exemptions of the full time emergency vehicle drivers concerning traffic lights and speed limits. We often participate in a relay, where something has to be transported across Blood Bike boundaries, so we meet our colleagues from neighbouring services to receive or hand over items for their onward journey.

Volunteering for Freewheelers gives me a chance to ride a nice bike more often, I am able to help provide a a vital service to the NHS which would have to pay for taxis or private couriers if we did not do it, and it gives me a chance to get back into the “NHS culture”, visiting hospitals and meeting up with ex-Ambulance Service and hospital colleagues.

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