A network of volunteer bikers playing a vital role in support of the NHS is being helped to stay on the road with a grant from the Wiltshire Community Foundation.
The Severn Freewheelers, who give up their time to ferry vital supplies, samples and documents, has been given £2,900 from the community foundation’s Wiltshire and Swindon Coronavirus Response Fund. The appeal has raised £580,110 so far and has already awarded more than £325,000 to more than 90 voluntary groups across the county to help them respond to the crisis.
Severn Freewheelers has 38 volunteers in Swindon and Wiltshire out of a total of 120 serving Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire on nine £18,000 BMW 1200 RT bikes equipped to police specifications.
Chairman Tim Kidwell said the group, founded in 2013, usually provides free out of hours support to the NHS - delivering blood, medicine and equipment to and from the Great Western Hospital from 7pm to 7am each weekday and 24 hours at weekends. “During the virus epidemic we have been asked by the NHS to increase that to a 24-hour service, seven days a week,” he said.
“The bikes are being worked twice as hard as otherwise, which is why we have come to the Wiltshire Community Foundation and I cannot stress enough how much the grant will help. Our fundraising has just dried up and our income has disappeared. We get no government funding or support and every penny we get goes towards providing our service.”
The increased workload has seen bikers rushing coronavirus samples from GWH to pathology labs in Filton, near Bristol or Portsmouth. “We have also been taking PPE deliveries of gloves and masks to from GWH to hospitals like Savernake in Marlborough,” said Mr Kidwell.
“There has also been an increase in work taking samples and documents. We are not only delivering between NHS sites, we are also taking drugs and documents to people’s homes. We are like Amazon for the NHS.
“The job can be stressful. You know it has got to be done and you just get on and do it. In a 12-hour shift you can do 400 or 500 miles. You are talking about a tank of fuel every 12-hour shift so with our workload doubling, so have our fuel costs. The grant will be used for tyres and servicing. Motorbike tyres only last 6,000 miles so we are having to replace them more often.”
Volunteers, who have to be over 25 and an advanced rider, are mostly in their 50s and male, though some are under 30 and six are female. There are also 30 dispatchers who take the initial calls from hospitals and assign jobs to the nearest of the four riders on duty at any one time.
The group has joined an NHS volunteer ‘Pharmy Army’, to deliver drugs from hospitals to discharged patients to allow them to go home quicker. “The patients are happier because
they are not just sitting there bored and the beds are freed up and the staff are freed up so everybody benefits,” said Mr Kidwell.
To find out more about the group and how to volunteer, go to severnfreewheelers.org.uk.
Wiltshire Community Foundation interim co-chief executive Fiona Oliver said: “This is yet another example of a voluntary group, whose members give so freely of their time, stepping up to meet the demands of this crisis and helping to keep their communities safe.
“We are delighted that we can help match the generosity of the people of Wiltshire and Swindon with the commitment of such a wonderful group. There are so many more groups doing similarly vital work that we can help, but we are still relying on support for our appeal to enable us to keep on doing it.”
To donate to the Wiltshire and Swindon Coronavirus Response Appeal or to find out how to apply for a grant, go to wiltshirecf.org.uk.