Meet the new ‘Agri-business Group’ hoping to keep NI’s air ambulance flying

A team of nine Northern Irish agri-business leaders have teamed up to promote the work of the Air Ambulance NI (AANI) charity and encourage support within the agricultural sector.

Speaking on behalf of the group, Barclay Bell, a trustee of AANI and the person behind gathering the ‘Agri-business Group’ together explained the charity needed to raise £2 million a year to run its pre-hospital critical care service.

“This life-saving service is already a major benefit to farmers and rural communities. In isolated rural areas it can be difficult for medical services to reach, treat and transport people,” Bell said.

“The air ambulance helps tackle that and aims to save lives, brains and limbs.

Fundraising has been hit hard with the health pandemic, yet we know there is a strong supporter base and willingness to help in rural communities. We hope the agribusiness group will help harness that for the charity.

Bell who is a farmer on a mixed farm in Rathfriland, Co. Down, is a past president of the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) and actively involved with several other farming organisations.

During his tenure as UFU president, he helped raise £200,000 for the Air Ambulance NI charity and said: “Our agricultural sector has really embraced the work of air ambulance and this group are bringing their skills, experience and passion for their community to help Northern Ireland maintain its only air ambulance service.”

The group is made up of eight other members:

  • Aurelie Moralis of Castlewellan, Co. Down, who is a qualified vet now working in the animal health pharmaceutical industry;
  • Martyn Blair from Finvoy, Co. Antrim, a full-time farmer with qualifications in agricultural economics and marketing;
  • Oonagh Chesney of Portglenone, Co. Antrim, company secretary of Fane Valley Co-Op Society Ltd and all group subsidiary companies and is currently serving her second term on the Board of the Livestock and Meat Commission;
  • James Speers, a farmer and past president of the Young Farmers Clubs of Ulster from Markethill, Co. Armagh;
  • Jennifer Hawkes of Omagh, Co. Tyrone, a fourth-generation pedigree dairy farmer and the current chairman of the Ulster Farmers’ Union rural affairs committee and a member of the Trustees Board of Rural Support;
  • Raymond Bready originally of Rathfriland, Co. Down, now living in Donaghadee, a key accounts manager for John Thompson and Sons and commentator for equestrian events across Europe;
  • Libby Clarke of Magheralin, Co. Armagh, who is a cattle breeder, cattle judge and runs her own estate agency; and
  • Caroline Doyle, agricultural business manager for Barclays Bank.

The Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) for Northern Ireland is delivered by a partnership between the charity Air Ambulance Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service.

It’s a service that responds to critically ill and injured patients on average twice a day and can be the difference between life and death.

Glenn O’Rorke, operational lead for the HEMS said, “Our very first call-out was to a farming incident and farming and agricultural incidents account for up to 11% of call-outs. This includes accidents involving farm machinery, slurry or cattle.

Unfortunately, on average, there is a farming call every week with no decrease through the pandemic. It is never lost on us that behind every call-out is a patient, their family and local community.

“We are really touched that the rural and agricultural communities are continuing to support and thank everyone involved in the newly established agribusiness group.”