ST JOHN Ambulance services in Bangor and Newtownards have launched a new joint hub aimed at improving efficiency and training for more than 100 volunteers and the communities they serve.

The new hub, located at Enterprise Business Park at Balloo, in Bangor, replaces former separate stations, and is aimed at providing swifter travel times and future further expansion.

The merger marks the eightieth year of the Bangor Unit – formerly situated at Central Avenue – of providing dedicated service to the local community and the NHS. The launch event also signalled 50 years of service by the Newtownards unit, located at North Road.

The new centre – catering for 104 volunteers – provides better operational facilities for St John Ambulance volunteers, and enables better use of the hub’s current fleet of ambulances, including a 4 x 4 vehicle used for equestrian, Moto X and other off-road events.

The location of the new hub provides swifter access across the Ards and North Down borough and Belfast which the unit also covers.

Certificates of commemoration of these landmark anniversaries were presented during a ceremony attended by the Mayor of Ards and North Down, Jennifer Gilmour.

A St John spokesman said while principally covering the Belfast, Ards and North Down areas, the ambulances deploy to other locations across the Province, covering both large public events such as the NW 200, airshows and the Milk Cup, as well as carrying out patient transfers and answering doctors’ emergency calls for the NHS.

“By moving to the new hub, both units (Bangor and Newtownards) can share a more modern and larger facility, which has the benefit of being utilised twice per week in the evenings for individual unit training, in addition to combined weekend courses, as opposed to the two previous facilities each being used only one evening per week for unit training,” he said. 

“The hub currently hosts six ambulances, but could easily hold twice that number, plus it has considerable parking and vehicle washing facilities outside.”

Speaking at the hub launch, the Mayor said it was good to meet and speak to so many of the ‘green and black’ army of volunteers who are at the heart of the organisation and who play a key role,” she said.

“Be it in supporting the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service, providing medical cover for events across the borough, and essential training, they are worth their weight in gold and heartfelt thanks to the members of the units and their families for their selfless service,” she added.

The Mayor performed the building’s official opening, alongside the Chairman of St John Ambulance Northern Ireland, Christopher Murdock.

Dedications were performed by Chaplains from the Order of St John, the Rev. Wilfred Orr and Father Colin Reid, in the presence of the Chief Executive and Trustees of St John Ambulance (Northern Ireland).

Attendees at the merger included the Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service, Michael Bloomfield, and their Director of Quality, Safety and Improvement, Lynne Charlton. 

Volunteers from both the Bangor and Newtownards units also took pride of place at the event.

The new hub was launched after St John Ambulance Northern Ireland’s purchase of 10 new ambulances to replace older vehicles and modernise its fleet.

In recent times, the service deployed up to 80 ambulances per week in direct support to the NHS during the various waves of the Covd-19 pandemic. 

Volunteers responded magnificently during this national crisis, crewing ambulances in full PPE and working long hours, transferring patients to and from hospitals all over the Province and to the Republic of Ireland, and answering emergency calls.

Volunteers from the hub also supported colleagues in London and were on duty at the Notting Hill Carnival, the funeral of the late Queen Elizabeth II, the London Marathon, Pride, Remembrance Day, New Year’s Eve, Ride London, and the recent Coronation of King Charles.

Volunteers joining St John Ambulance are provided with full training for various roles, including first aider, ambulance care assistant, or emergency ambulance crew, and many units enjoy active social activities, with friendships formed for life. No prior knowledge of first aid is required, so anyone wishing to join should get in touch on the website at sjani.org.

The Bangor Unit has 72 volunteers and Newtownards has 32.  The units haven’t merged they simply share the same Hub and meet for training on different nights.

Bangor were previously in Central Avenue, Bangor which only had parking for one ambulance).  The St John Hall there has been refurbished and is now a youth facility for Bangor Cadets and Badgers.  

Newtownards were previously in the North Road Industrial Estate at Quarry Heights, again a smaller facility, which only held two ambulances.