If you’ve taken a train between Middlesbrough and Darlington over the past six months, you may have rumbled (slowly) past our new headquarters.
The track runs across the front of the site, on the outskirts of Eaglescliffe. When we moved into the building in April, we named it Progress House, and what a year of progress we have had.
It may not sound all that significant, but the layout of the new headquarters is behind one of the most significant changes at GNAAS. The open plan environment is a stark contrast from our old headquarters, which took up part of a converted hotel in Darlington town centre. It served us well, but by the time we moved out, we were desperate for more space.
That’s because the charity has grown. It has had to. The crew responded to more than 1,600 call-outs in the last year. We needed to raise £5.3m to pay for that. Raising this amount of money requires an efficient operation that can reach across our 8,000 square mile area and handle with consistency the donations, the communications, the enquiries, the events, the talks, the volunteers, the lottery and the recycling, to name a few functions. We are a streamlined organisation – we detest waste – but we need to be able to support our supporters in the way they rightly expect.
Had we stayed where we were, perhaps we would have struggled to maintain the high standards we set ourselves. In those old cellular offices, the different departments that make up the charity were physically divided from one another, never mind the lottery team, then-based eight miles north in Newton Aycliffe.
We made it work, but the hurdles were always there to overcome. Email, phone calls and intranet all have an important place in communications between departments. But none are an adequate substitute for face to face interaction, especially the kind of casual face to face interaction that is so vital in strengthening bonds and building friendships.
From day one in Progress House, as the hangar walls were being built outside, inside, we saw the old barriers starting to disintegrate. People working together, sharing ideas, helping each other out. The main office building has been refurbished, the hangar has been built, as has the helipad, and we’ve installed a fuel tank. We’ve put up some signs and flags. All vital, but perhaps the most significant benefit to the organisation in the long term is not any one of these physical entities but instead the unity that the new facility is already beginning to foster.
A team is more than just a jumble of departments. Progress House is all about breaking down those barriers and building up from the ground something bigger, more unified, and better prepared for the future, for the challenges ahead and the thousands of people who will need our air ambulance service.
This unity is what will safeguard the future of this charity – because without those working in fundraising, in administration and finance, in running the lottery and making sure the organisation keeps ticking over, raising the £5m+ we need every year would be a just a fantasy. And without the donations, of course, there is no Great North Air Ambulance Service.
We hope we will be here for decades to come. Thanks to you we’ve been able to do the groundwork. But the demand on the helicopters, our overnight cars, and the teams that work those shifts, is as strong as ever. We can only continue to respond when we are needed if you all keep doing the amazing thing you’ve always done – supporting in any way you can. And next time you’re on the old train rumbling past our front door, or when you hear our helicopter overhead, you should feel the pride at what we have achieved together and the excitement of what the future holds.