Q&A: Mark Bentley, Chairperson of South West Blood Bikes14 June 2023
As an independent West Country housebuilder which continues to grow, it’s important to us that we give back to the communities in which we build in. As well as engaging with local communities and fulfilling our S106 agreements, each year Devonshire Homes’ staff nominate a charity to fundraise for.
With several sites in Cornwall as well as Devon, we wanted to ensure that our fundraising efforts benefitted both regions so this year, we decided to elect two charities of the year: South West Blood Bikes and Cornwall Blood Bikes. For every open market new build house in the West Country sold throughout the year, Devonshire Homes donates £25 to each charity. So far, we have raised £2,650 for each charity this year.
Both charities are run entirely by volunteers who donate their time to offer a life-saving service to the NHS. Bikers use their advanced motorcycle skills to transport essential urgent supplies to hospitals and hospices throughout their respective patch including whole blood, pathology samples, medication, medical equipment, medical notes, and donor breast milk.
We sat down with Mark Bentley, Chairperson and Trustee of South West Blood Bikes, to find out more about the vital work they do.
Hi Mark! Firstly, please could you give our readers a little background on South West Blood Bikes…
Of course. So, South West Blood Bikes was founded in 2018 by volunteers who had a desire to set up a free, out-of-hours Blood Bike service based in Plymouth. Up until early 2020, the charity continued as a small organisation with three bikes and six volunteers. We were then approached by the NHS and asked to expand our service to cover more of the county, and the Nationwide Association of Blood Bikes also asked us to take over the position as their official member group for Devon. Due to other commitments, the existing founder stood down from running the charity and handed the reins to a new team of Trustees, initially just myself and my wife Denise.
We have built the service progressively, expanding as funding and availability of volunteers allowed. We now cover the whole county of Devon, and have a fleet of 12 liveried Blood Bikes, three response cars and 75 active volunteers based in our four teams across Plymouth, Torbay, Exeter, and North Devon. We also now have five Trustees running the charity.
What made you personally want to get involved with the South West Blood Bikes?
My personal journey with the Blood Bikes started when my father was diagnosed with Aplastic Anaemia, meaning that he had to have regular blood transfusions to stay alive. It was when we were waiting in hospital for an urgent blood delivery for him that a nurse mentioned it was coming on a Blood Bike. As a third-generation biker, I wondered what that was, and did some research which led me to find out more about blood biking. From that moment onwards, I decided that I wanted to get involved. So, in May 2019, I joined South West Blood Bikes as a volunteer rider before eventually taking over the running of the group. The only reason I do this is for the patients. I do this to help improve patient outcomes, and I do this in memory of my late father.
What is a typical shift like as a rider for the charity?
All shifts start with the volunteer collecting their vehicle from one of our bases and carrying out a detailed safety check of the vehicle. This includes checking fuel, oil, tyres, lights, and brakes. They also check they have all the equipment they need on the bike such as Daniels Containers (used for carrying hazardous samples safely), hand gel, gloves, masks, spill kits, ROC straps, blood box covers, receipt books, torch, pens etc. Once that has been done, they log on with the controller as available and wait to be allocated a job.
Most of our volunteers complete three days on shift at a time (although this can be varied if needed), and they take the car or bike home and respond from there. Once a job comes into our volunteer controllers, they will allocate this to the nearest biker/driver who will set off and collect the item, advising the controller when they have picked this up, and again when they have arrived at their destination. We keep a careful eye on our volunteer bikers and drivers via our onboard vehicle trackers. During busy periods, our controllers will ask a volunteer to go home if necessary if they have been out for an extended period, especially during darkness or bad weather.
Once the volunteer returns home, they may have motorcycle kit to dry out, and the bike or car needs to be cleaned ready to go again when the controller needs them next. Our riders will spend anywhere between three and six hours a day out on active jobs when on shift.
How important are donations from businesses such as Devonshire Homes and the public to South West Blood Bikes? How are donations used?
Our charity does not charge the NHS or hospices for the service we provide. This is fundamental to our operation and was one of the reasons the charity was formed. In fact, it is so important to us that it is written into our constitution. Donations and corporate support are the only income we have and therefore, these are vital for keeping our bikes and cars on the road. We cannot do what we do without the support of the community, be those individual donors, support from community groups, or from corporate support such as that of Devonshire Homes. It is important to understand that we have no paid staff or trustees whatsoever. Therefore, every penny raised is spent on fuelling, insuring, and maintaining our fleet of vehicles.
The commitment our volunteers make is huge, and not just in the time they give. In fact, six of the 12 Blood Bikes we have, and two of the three cars, were purchased for the charity by the volunteers and the Trustees themselves.
Thanks to the generous donations and support from the public and businesses, we continue to grow as a charity. Last year, we carried out 2,470 call outs and moved over 11,115 items for the NHS. In 2023, we fully expect to carry out over 3,500 jobs and to save the local NHS Trusts over £200,000 that they can use instead on patient care.
Finally, if someone was interested in volunteering for South West Blood Bikes, what would they have to do?
Riders and drivers come forward quite often so what we really need are “non-operational” roles. We have an urgent need for people who could volunteer from home as controllers, taking the calls from the NHS and despatching these to our riders and drivers. We also need people to help at fundraising events, and people with skills in social media and marketing, something none of us have any experience in.
Currently, all of this work is done by me personally, and as the charity keeps on growing, this is becoming harder to keep up with. Number one on this list is controllers. If anyone is interested in volunteering, they should email email@example.com and we will be in contact!
You can keep up-to-date with South West Blood Bikes’ work by following their social media channels. You can find them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. To find out more about the charity, visit www.swbb.charity.