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Three years after the project to build a fit-for-purpose helipad in Campbeltown began, the first test flights have taken place at the Robert Black Memorial Helipad.
Helimed 5, a Scottish Ambulance Service H145 helicopter from Glasgow, was the first aircraft to land at the site adjacent to Campbeltown Hospital last Thursday morning, shortly after the potentially life-saving facility was deemed operational.
The £270,000 helipad was fully funded by the HELP Appeal, the only charity in the country dedicated to funding NHS hospital helipads, and was built by Kintyre companies McFadyens Contractors and McKinven and Colville, with specialist equipment supplied by FEC Heliports Equipment.
The helipad, which will be officially opened at a ceremony in June, has been named in honour of Campbeltown paramedic Robert Black, who died last May after a battle with Covid-19.
The crew of the first helicopter to land — pilot Brett Hesketh and operational paramedics Jason Mortimer and Jim Henderson — were welcomed by Robert’s wife Catherine, deputy head teacher at Dalintober Primary School, and children from the school’s early learning centre, who were led to the helipad by piper Julie Blue.
The children, and others from Campbeltown Nursery Centre and Meadows Under Fives, were allowed to walk round the helipad, viewing the aircraft at close quarters, before it took off to continue its life-saving work.
Later that day, Helimed 76, an EC135 helicopter from Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance (SCAA), based in Perth, piloted by Captain Andy Lett, with paramedics Wendy Jubb and Rich Garside on board, also touched down at the site.
The third aircraft to land, last Friday morning, was HM Coastguard’s Rescue 199, an AgustaWestland 189 from Prestwick.
Nick Harvey, director of fundraising and communications with SCAA, said the new helipad would greatly enhance facilities at Campbeltown for its air ambulances.
‘The ability to land at a quality approved pad while on our time-critical operations helps to ensure the safety of our aircraft and crew and the smooth transfer of patients,’ he said.
‘The fact that it has been built in memory of a much-loved and respected paramedic, who devoted his life to helping others in the Campbeltown area, provides a legacy in his name that will continue to benefit the community.’
A Scottish Ambulance Service spokesperson added: ‘Air ambulance support is a vital lifeline for the communities of Campbeltown and the Kintyre peninsula. This new purpose-built pad is set to improve patient experience by reducing the transfer time for patients from Campbeltown Hospital.’
The first landings were live-streamed around the world by Eric Spence, manager of South Kintyre Development Trust (SKDT), which has taken on a licence to operate the helipad and is responsible for the ongoing operation and maintenance of the site on behalf of the community.
Eric, who was a friend of Robert’s, told the Courier he found the first landing more emotional than he expected.
‘I realised what a historic moment it was, the first time we’ve had a helipad in Campbeltown,’ he said.
‘It has been a really difficult year, particularly for Robert’s wife Catherine, and when I saw her stepping onto the helipad with the children, I became a wee bit overwhelmed by the whole thing. This is for their future, they will never need to put up with not having that facility.’
He added: ‘It is a bit of a dichotomy to have this facility that we are so proud of but that we hope we don’t have to use! We just want it to be there for emergencies.’
Eric added that an online shop selling Robert Black Memorial Helipad merchandise has been launched and a JustGiving fundraising page set up to raise money to help with the helipad’s ongoing maintenance costs.
After consultation with Robert’s family, Eric revealed that SKDT’s plan for any money raised above the cost of the helipad’s upkeep is to be distributed to good causes in the community close to Robert’s heart, with a view to a bigger project in his memory in the future.
The helipad project was led by ambulance technician Stuart McLellan, from Neilston in East Renfrewshire, after he saw emergency services struggling to airlift patients from the often water-logged field, which previously served as a helipad, while visiting relatives in Campbeltown in 2018.
Stuart said: ‘I am pleased that I have been able to play my part getting Campbeltown this vital asset. I hope it’s not used often, however, if someone is unwell and requires flown to definitive care, then this asset will be there for years to come to allow that to happen safely and smoothly.
‘It’s been an exciting three years with everyone pulling together to get the best result and I’m pleased we now have the project fully complete.’
South Kintyre councillor John Armour added: ‘I was delighted to see the Robert Black Memorial Helipad open for use.
‘It’s been three years since the idea was first put forward by Stuart McLellan and I have backed it all the way. There have been some hurdles along the road but I was happy to be the go-between between Stuart and the council to get us to where we are today.
‘Stuart deserves a huge amount of thanks for taking this on and never giving up on it when it might have been easier to do so. The whole community owes Stuart a great deal of thanks.
‘It was also fantastic — and something Stuart was determined to see — to have local contractors do the majority of the work to construct the helipad and in record time from starting the job earlier in the year to completion last week. What an excellent job they have all done.
‘This wonderful new facility will be a tremendous benefit to residents of Kintyre and through time will undoubtedly save lives. Well done to everyone involved.’
For more information, visit the helipad’s official Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages. To purchase merchandise, visit www.clubshopdirect.co.uk/trbmh or to donate to the JustGiving page, visit www.justgiving.com/fundraising/trbmh