From 18th to 19th September, the annual Rantamaraton took place by the seaside of Espoo City. Our Finish member was supported by two volunteers from St John Ambulance in England.

Chloe Massey and Richard Swan travelled from Bristol to Espoo for the first Volunteer Swap since the beginning of the pandemic. Together, the team of 21 people provided medical coverage and first aid to the runners and spectators. Read the report by Chloe Massey and Richard Swan below:

Brief background

Richard works in Cancer Services and IT at the Royal United Hospitals National Health Service Foundation Trust in Bath, and has volunteered for 7 years in St John Ambulance Service. Chloe works in the Wellbeing Service at the University of Bristol and has volunteered for 10 years.

In 2019 we won the National Award for Clinical Excellence, following a cardiac arrest we dealt with while volunteering as part of the Cycle Response Unit covering Bristol’s half-marathon through the city. During the award ceremony in St John’s Gate HQ in London, we were introduced to the JOIN exchange programme ‘Volunteer Swap’.

Exchange with Johanniter Finland

Despite a year’s delay due to COVID-19, we had stayed in touch with one of Finland’s senior volunteers, Pekka Rekola. Pekka, along with Merja Rekola and Mia Bernas-Hilli, who organise the Rantamaraton’s medical cover each year, were instrumental in helping to arrange the practicalities of the exchange.

We ended up spending a week in Finland in mid-September 2021, and for 3 days, we were involved in the setup and cover one of the largest St John events in Finland, albeit with the recent restrictions due to the pandemic.

Friday was spent with one of Finland’s JOIN representatives, Eric Von Troil, who showed us around Helsinki and Porvoo, and then took us to the ambulance base in Espoo, where we started to meet the team who would be covering the marathon. We found there are many alternative and specialist skills all good St John volunteers need regardless of which country you are working in; these include setting up a field hospital in the middle of nowhere, erecting vast white plastic tents without any instructions, and an ambulance driver’s ability to find hot fresh coffee for everyone, regardless of the hour of the day.

The first day of the marathon was well attended, and it wasn’t long before Chloe was part of an ambulance response call around the 15 km mark of the race, and Richard had a few trickier patients who had ended up collapsing at the end of their marathon race. The day finished with a meal in a restaurant and a chance to chat more informally with the other volunteers.

The second day was the 5 km and 10 km races, as well as the kids race. We had more time to meet the rest of the team and appreciate the many similarities in the two St John organisations, as well as some of the interesting differences.

The most obvious and exciting difference for us was the scale of the organisations: Johanniter Finland is just getting started and has been going for less than 10 years, with a growing core of volunteers from clinical settings. Some of them started as friends in other volunteer groups and as healthcare professionals. It has a wonderful grass-roots feeling with a handful of duties each year. The UK has provided first-aid since 1887, and has made that long journey to being a major part of the healthcare cover in the UK, with over 250,000 hours of clinical volunteering last year in 2020 in hospitals, in the community, and for events. We had some very interesting conversations over dinner with Johanniter members about their next steps, including the possibility of a cycle response unit.

We had a wonderful experience during our exchange to Finland, and the event offered us a fresh perspective on covering major events for the public and how useful and important the standardised training in first aid is. We are keen to stay in touch with our new friends in Finland and would love to start hosting them and other volunteers interested in JOIN at one of Bristol’s events each year.

All pictures by St John Ambulance

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