St John Ambulance ‘taking away’ ambulances paid for by Aylsham and North Walsham people - claim

PUBLISHED: 10:13 27 June 2014 | UPDATED: 10:13 27 June 2014

Margaret Gilham, in her days as divisional superintendent of St John Ambulance in Aylsham.

Margaret Gilham, in her days as divisional superintendent of St John Ambulance in Aylsham.

Ambulances and a defibrillator bought with public donations to benefit people in North Walsham and Aylsham have been taken away on the orders of a charity’s head office, according to concerned volunteers.

Former North Walsham St John Ambulance volunteer Eddie Payne. Picture: ALEX HURRELLFormer North Walsham St John Ambulance volunteer Eddie Payne. Picture: ALEX HURRELL

They also claim London chiefs of St John Ambulance are insisting community fund-raising events are charged “horrendous” prices for the charity to provide first aid cover.

A St John spokesman said changes were introduced in 2012 after consultation, and a new regional structure meant the charity could provide “a more responsive and efficient service”, which included keeping resources in “key regional locations” where they could be shared.

Organisers of events expected to attract crowds are obliged to arrange qualified first aid cover and uniformed St John volunteers are a familiar sight at fetes and festivals across Britain.

Margaret Gilham, 63, who retired as St John divisional superintendent at Aylsham three years ago, said the situation made her “very, very sad”.

By the end of her 17 years as an Aylsham St John volunteer, Mrs Gilham, said she had been embarrassed about having to quote “ridiculous” prices to provide cover to some organisations.

These had included the Aylsham Show where the charge had shot up from £500-£600 to £2,000.

And she was upset that, after assuring Aylsham people their donations would buy an ambulance for local use, it had now been taken away to Fakenham.

Eddie Payne, a former long-serving North Walsham volunteer, said the situation had become a “massive problem.”

North Walsham’s ambulance, also funded with substantial public donations, had been sent to Norwich. One of two defibrillators given by North Walsham Lions Club had also been taken away.

When the Aylsham division closed, following Mrs Gilham’s retirement, its ambulance - together with Aylsham St John volunteers - had come to North Walsham. But it had now been sent to Fakenham, 32 miles away.

It was not practical for North Walsham volunteers to travel and collect it for local duties, clean it afterwards, and take it back again.

Many small events only made a modest profit for their cause and the new St John charging policy could take a huge bite out of their proceeds.

“The charges are horrendous. People in Norfolk aren’t earning London wages,” he said.

Many stalwarts were angry that they gave their time for free to support their communities but head office seemed to want to make money out of them.

“It’s killing St John which has been in North Walsham for 90 years. Organisers are starting to get their cover elsewhere. What is the future?” said Mr Payne.

The St John spokesman added that since unifying the region, the charity had been able to respond to need better and could therefore help “more people be the difference between a life lost and a life saved.”

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