Facing the pandemic together
From road races to stadium concerts, St John Ambulance volunteers have been a reassuring sight at events, and training generations of first aiders, for more than 130 years.
And with alumnus Martin Houghton-Brown at the helm, thousands of volunteers have been providing vital support to the NHS during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Martin, who started Teacher Training at St Paul’s and St Mary’s College in 1989, has been Chief Executive of St John since 2018. During his career he has worked tirelessly as an advocate for vulnerable people, informed governement policy, and helped to provide a lifeline for the families of missing people.
While Martin was studying, our predecessor institution was undergoing an historic transformation, to become the Cheltenham and Gloucester College of Higher Education (CGCHE) in 1990. As a student representative, he was at the forefront of discussion with the then Principal, Dame Janet Trotter DBE, and this proved invaluable.
“I was very lucky to be involved,” he said, “because it gave me a real insight into boardroom dynamics, and how to make your voice heard. I have spent a lot of time in the boardroom during my career and my experiences in Cheltenham really set the foundations for that role in leadership.”
As well as representing students, Martin spent a lot of time working with the Chaplaincy and volunteering, particularly with young people.
“Although I was keen to teach, the volunteering work I did then helped to shape my future career, and really inspired me to go further in working with vulnerable people.”
Martin returned to CGCHE for a postgraduate certificate in Biblical Studies, before taking up a role in Leeds leading the government’s Change Up grants programme in the region. He then began policy influencing for The Children’s Society for young people at risk, before becoming Chief Executive of Missing People. Martin was then Chief Executive for Depaul UK, which helps young people who are homeless, vulnerable and disadvantaged, before joining St John Ambulance.
With its roots in the 11th century, today the charity has 30,000 volunteers, 1700 employees, and a £100m a year turnover.
“We’ve been working closely with the NHS throughout the pandemic,” he said. “Our volunteers have been working tirelessly to provide support, from driving ambulances to providing triage and end of life care in hospitals around the country. Our volunteers are unusual in that as well as giving their time freely, they are fully trained and highly skilled, with some giving 37 hours – a full working week – every month. During this pandemic they have really stepped forward and together delivered over 130,000 hours of patient care through Ambulance response and Hospital volunteering.
“Looking to the future, we see the skills and capability of young people as key. To this end we have just launched the NHS Cadet programme, nurturing the future talent of our Health Service.
“These are unprecedented and challenging times. It feels like a long time ago since I first started at St Paul’s, but the experiences I had there are still very much with me today. I would say to anyone who is currently studying, or thinking about going to university, to really make the most of the opportunities you find there, as you never know where they may lead.”