Rallying call to save historic ambulance association

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Rita, Mike and Ernie from the Stratford Ambulance Association.

The historic Stratford Ambulance Association is on the verge of collapse unless the organisation can succeed in a final appeal for new members.

The service, which is based at Foundation House, was founded in 1944, but can trace its roots back as far as the 1920s.

Members regularly attend events such as sports matches, the Shakespeare Birthday Parade, the Mop Fair and other gatherings across the district, providing vital medical assistance.

However the number of members of the voluntary-run service has now dwindled to only around 12, with big questions marks now hanging over the organisation’s future.

It has been a turbulent few years for the association, which was forced to move from its permanent home on Western Road in 2012 to Stratford’s TA centre.

The organisation had to move away from this site too, but has finally found a new home at Foundation House on Western Road.

It has since tried to streamline its operation, selling some of its obsolete ambulance vehicles, but it is a lack of volunteer first aiders that is of most pressing concern now.

Volunteer first aider Rita Etsell said: “I’ve been volunteering with the Stratford Ambulance Association since I was six-years-old, nearly 50 years. My grandfather William founded the association, my mum and dad Don and Jean were volunteers and my brother David is a trustee. Being part of this organisation runs in the family, I’ve always been around it, always wanted to be a part of it and there’s a lot of other people with family connections too.

“It would be bad for Stratford if the association could no longer continue, we’ve always been here.”

Mike Brain, president of the association, said: “We’re hugely important because if somebody falls ill at an event we’re at, we are the first on the scene providing vital first aid, they don’t have to wait 20 mins before they can get help, we’re there on the spot.

“We want to carry on but we can’t do that with dwindling funds without more volunteer staff. If we can get more volunteers, we can cover more events and we can keep the finances at a good level.

“People who aspire to a career in the medical profession often come to us first, doctors and paramedics develop their basic first aid skills with us, so we play a really important role in helping the next generation.”

Ernie Coombes, a volunteer at the Stratford Ambulance Association since 1979, said: “We’re below the minimum number of volunteers that we need really, without more trained first aiders we won’t be able to attend all the events we need to. A lot of voluntary organisations are struggling for help at the moment and I would say we need to recruit at least four or five new volunteers to carry on.

“This is our last ditch attempt to attract volunteers now, if we can’t get more help we might not be here this time next year.”

The Herald also has a connection with the Stratford Ambulance Association with Ken Boyden, former owner of the paper, helping to co-found the organisation.

Richard Boyden, current owner of the Herald, said: “My late father was instrumental in creating the Stratford Ambulance Association, an organisation that has worked hard for many years to benefit Stratford and its residents. It would be a real shame if after all those years of hard work, the organisation was no longer able to continue. I would urge anyone who thinks they could help to contact the association.”

Those interested in joining the Stratford Ambulance Association could help by just sacrificing four or five hours per month for training.

New members will learn vital first aid skills for life and a uniform is provided.

Training sessions take place at Foundation House on Masons Road every Thursday evening between 7-8.30pm, with potential new members very welcome to just drop by.

Alternatively if you are interested in helping email stratfordaa44@gmail.com.