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Thursday, 17 April 2014

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Cumbria air ambulance fundraisers quit after being ‘rubbished’

A group which has raised millions of pounds to help keep Cumbria’s air ambulance in the sky has broken up after its role became “untenable”.

Jan Hawkins photo
Jan and David Hawkins

The Friends of the Pride of Cumbria say they have handed at least £5 million to the Great North Air Ambulance Service (GNAAS), which runs the lifesaving Pride of Cumbria helicopter.

But members feel they have been frozen out by Darlington-based GNAAS and that their efforts have been “rubbished”.

Jan Hawkins has been the public face of the Pride of Cumbria since it launched in 2004. As chairman of the Friends she has led dozens of volunteers who have organised talks and events and collected donations.

But Mrs Hawkins – herself a volunteer who worked up to 80 hours a week – has stepped down. She accused GNAAS chief executive Graham Pickering of belittling the Friends’ efforts.

The Friends worked as an autonomous group, with the blessing of GNAAS. But the relationship soured after Mr Pickering called a meeting with the Friends at Stoneybeck Inn, Penrith, on June 26.

Fourteen of the 21 current volunteers attended. They thought the meeting was to discuss the threat to the Pride of Cumbria from Merseyside-based North West Air Ambulance (NWAA), which had been fundraising in Cumbria.

Instead, Mr Pickering criticised the efforts of the Friends. “He just rubbished us from start to finish,” said Mrs Hawkins. “He said the NWAA had more volunteers than we had. Someone said; ‘well we’ll get some more volunteers’. He said: ‘I don’t want any more Friends of the Pride of Cumbria. I want proper volunteers supervised by professional fundraisers’. "

The Friends were told they were no longer allowed to empty collection boxes and that this should be done only by GNAAS staff.

Details of the fundraising group breaking up emerged as a high-profile fundraiser for the charity took place on Friday.

All money from that will go to the Pride of Cumbria.

Mrs Hawkins – who last year won the lifetime achievement award at the Cumbria Woman of the Year Awards for her tireless fundraising work with the Friends – was told she could continue to give talks only if she was retrained by GNAAS.

The final straw came for her last week. She said she rang GNAAS to ask for the charity’s bank account so that a donor could transfer money but was told she couldn’t have the bank details. When someone else rang, they were told them.

In the 12 weeks since the meeting with Mr Pickering, Mrs Hawkins has been given more than £51,000 by people who still regard her as the face of the Pride of Cumbria.

“I opened the post this morning and there was a cheque for £200. Somebody turned up at the door the other day with a cheque for £3,000.”

Fighting back tears, she said: “I’m heartbroken. But it’s become untenable.”

The other Friends, who include Mrs Hawkins’ husband David, are also stepping down.

Marjorie Robertson, the west Cumbria-based secretary of the group, said: “I phoned all the members. I said: ‘Jan’s handing her notice in. Do you want to regroup?’ Every one of them said no. We were disgusted with how we were treated at that meeting."

In a statement, Mr Pickering said: “GNAAS has recently taken the decision to review its procedures in order to secure the future of its operations in Cumbria. This involves greater control over cash handling and community activities.

“We are sorry that members of the Friends of the Pride of Cumbria feel they cannot operate under the new system, but we owe it to the people of Cumbria to have an efficient and transparent fundraising operation."

Have your say

Its a real shame whats happened, and puts a bad light on all the hard work volunteers such as Jan Hawkins do for GNAAS, and the hard work Motorcycling organisations in the GNAAS boundary area carry out e.g. MAG, Boundary 500, Millom MBG, West Coast MCC, Bill Barker Memorial Riders etc etc etc plus all the other groups and shops that raise vast amounts of money. Hopefully though we won't lose sight of where that money goes and the good life saving work GNAAS does for Cumbria & the North East!

Posted by Raj Sood on 18 October 2012 at 10:12

Our club members undertake many events throughout the year to raise funds for the ‘Pride of Cumbria’, our Club’s chosen charity. Since 2005 we have collected and donated £9,600.00 with a further £3,000 plus, planned for this year-end.
Jan Hawkins has always made the effort to come down for our ‘Cheque-Presentation’, regardless of the weather etc, She has given our members, several talk/film shows over the years, which has inspired us all to collect money, through our numerous biking activities each year.

It seems that no mater how much selfless effort Jan, Dave and others like them put in, as Unpaid ‘Friends’, there will always be an ‘official’ who needs to govern, and spend money doing an activity that is already ‘working’ at no cost, thereby giving every penny to the cause. We hope to see that ‘official’ representing the ‘Pride of Cumbria’ at our possible Cheque-Presentation later this year?

Because of the Appalling treatment the Friends of the ‘Pride of Cumbria’ has received, I shall seriously consider making a recommendation, at our club’s AGM, that the money collected be transferred to another Air Ambulance Service.

Thanks for your inspiration and kindness Jan and Dave, I hope you both do as well in future endeavour’s as you have done for the ‘Pride of Cumbria’. Good luck.

Abb Chambers

Posted by Abb Chambers on 15 October 2012 at 21:26

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