Community Spotlight:

Going wild in Burpham

By Paul Nicholls

In our last issue our ‘Community Spotlight’ focussed on different members of the community and how they were coping with the new restrictions of lockdown. Although in some areas this lockdown has started to be relaxed it does still remain in place, but some people have started to use this to their advantage. Ben Hancock-Smith is one of those making the most of it.

It seems that whilst us humans are finding the lockdown difficult and restrictive to our normal daily routines the local wildlife has been flourishing in our absence and enjoying the quieter streets, parks and rivers undisturbed.

I’ve spoken to Ben Hancock-Smith who lives in Burpham and is a keen wildlife photographer. He’s currently a pupil at George Abbot School but soon hopes to study at local Merrist Wood College to gain qualifications and experience to pursue a career in wildlife photography.

Merrist Wood is a 400-acre, multi-award winning college in Worplesdon specialising in the land-based industries, with subject areas ranging from Animal Management and Aroboriculture & Forestry to Equine Management and Wildlife & Conservation. The College is a part of the Guildford College Group along with Farnham College and Guildford College.

Having seen a range of his recent pieces of work I asked Ben how he always seemed to be in the right place at the right time.

“As a keen wildlife photographer I always carry a camera with me on my daily exercise walks allowed by the government during this lockdown. So, by taking advantage of the limited numbers of people out during April and early May, I scanned Burpham for opportunities to capture as much nature as possible.”

A Red Legged Partridge strutting his stuff on Burnett Avenue. (© Ben Hancock-Smith)

So what’s your favourite animal that you’ve managed to capture with your camera this spring?
“One of my favourite animals spotted is the annual spring visitor to Burpham, the red legged partridge. This year I have noticed them wandering around the empty pavements and crossing the barren roads. Occasionally when people approach, they now seem tamer and pay little attention, even when getting within a couple metres of them.”

A brown rat grazing in Sutherland Memorial Park. (© Ben Hancock-Smith)

I can see a cute little rodent image there Ben, is that what I think it is?
“Probably a less popular animal seen more often since lockdown, are the brown rats in Sutherland memorial park. Despite how they are stereotypically regarded, if you can see one you may view them in a different perspective. This particular rat was not rummaging around rubbish or searching the gutters, it was simply grazing on the fresh grass and sniffing fresh flowers. Neither was it very shy as I could get quite close without frightening it. This did not seem like the ugly and disgusting rodent normally portrayed as spreading disease, but more like a cute small animal just going about its own business. It is not the only animal that can spread a disease I mean we were in a lockdown for a reason.”

Ben has also been out and about with his camera at the nature reserve (which is actually quite a good place to spot a large proportion of Burpham residents taking their daily exercise) and along by the river Wey managed by Richard Cant who we spoke with in our last issue.

“As a keen wildlife photographer I always carry a camera with me on my daily exercise walks allowed by the government during this lockdown.”

A cormorant photographed at the Nature Reserve. (© Ben Hancock-Smith)

“As lockdown has restricted outdoor activity, the canals and rivers are even more deserted than our roads with barely anyone sailing. At the riverside nature reserve in Burpham, this has resulted in the sight of more Cormorants, normally a shy fish-hunting bird. These black snake-like necked birds are usually quite timid and often get scared off by boats when they try to fish, but with fewer people there are more of these remarkable predators about. However, unlike the rats and partridges they are still very shy and getting near one is quite hard.”

Starling chicks (below) still being fed by their parents (above). (© Ben Hancock-Smith)

With lockdown encompassing spring, there have been chicks coming out to feed with their parents and enjoy the warmer weather. Another prevalent bird doing the same are the starlings. Their chicks have fledged and are now flying around in flocks looking for food. Despite the chicks (coloured brown and grey) being able to fly, they are still being fed by their parents (the black and colourful ones). Whilst the parents are gathering food, the chicks get to enjoy the beautiful spring weather.

(© Ben Hancock-Smith)

Let’s hope, as lockdown starts to relax further, that the local wildlife can continue to enjoy the summer and we wish Ben the best of luck with his wildlife photography career. It looks like he’s off to a good start.



Community Spotlight:

Living under lockdown

By Paul Nicholls

You might have recently been reading our series of interviews talking to the interesting and inspiring people of Burpham and Jacobs Well, however this time I wanted to find out a bit more about how we are all ‘living under lockdown’. I’ve spoken to a cross-section of our community to find out how they are coping with this new way of living from a family and a business perspective.

The past 6 weeks have certainly been ‘strange times’, a phrase I’ve heard from a lot of people recently, and the changes made to our lives in order to manage, battle and overcome the Coronavirus crisis have had an impact on all aspects of life.

Something that stands out to me is the more appropriate use of the word ‘hero’. No longer is it used for overpaid sports stars but is now so much more deservingly used to refer to our NHS superstars who have, and still are, courageously and selflessly treating and caring for people admitted
to our hospitals (whether suffering from Coronavirus or anything else).

Of course there are many other ‘frontline’ services, ranging from the police, the fire service and the army to utilities teams and volunteer organisations (to name but a few), that we rely upon in times of crisis and who are currently working hard on our behalf to keep the community safe and healthy.

The weekly Thursday clapping that we’ve all been joining in with has been a wonderful collaborative display of gratitude and a time when we peer out of our front doors and have the opportunity to briefly chat to our neighbours. There’s certainly a sense of support and community and this is something that I feel has been heightened in this time of shared experience, all the more enriched by the various social media groups that have sprung up to offer support and companionship (in my own experience I am now actively involved in 3 separate WhatsApp groups). This has lead me to consider everyone else in Burpham & Jacobs Well, how have their lives changed at the moment, what are they doing differently? I’ve spoken to a cross-section of our communities and asked them “what’s living under lockdown like for you”.

I recently spoke to an NHS nurse about her day-to-day routines and how they have been impacted by the Coronavirus. “Working for the NHS has changed dramatically for me as I have been redeployed to a community hospital looking after COVID-19 patients who are continuing their recovery after having been treated in larger hospitals. Morale is good but the shifts are hard – the PPE makes it very hot and uncomfortable!”

I asked her how this has affected life at home, especially as the children are currently off school “My husband is working from home and there’s enough to keep him busy but nowhere near normal, the kids do school work until lunchtime, and they go out for a bike ride every afternoon around the estate. With the fabulous weather we’ve been able to enjoy a relaxing glass of wine in the garden when the children have gone to bed, so at least there is some calm at the end of the day to try and unwind.”

Many of us have been doing our daily exercise and from my own experience it seems a lot of people have headed down to the nature reserve on Bowers Lane and along by the River Wey between Bowers Lock and Stoke Lock.

I asked Richard Cant from the National Trust about living under lockdown:

Richard Cant, Lengthsman, National Trust
“For the last 15 years I have worked as a Lengthsman for the National Trust
on the River Wey Navigation, looking after the 3.5 mile ‘length’ between Millmead Lock in Guildford and Bowers Lock at Burpham. As you can imagine this is normally a very varied role and depending on the seasons involves tree work, vegetation management, and water level control through the operation of weirs. Spring is usually a particularly busy time for us Lengthsmen as the boating season informally starts at Easter and we always try our hardest to make sure the locks are painted and the grass is neatly mown so everywhere is looking its best.

Of course this year is very different because of the Coronavirus Pandemic, Bowers Lock at Burpham navigation has been suspended for boat users (we’ve been open since 1653) and our visitor centre at Dapdune Wharf in Guildford hasn’t been able to open yet. All this means that we’re running on a skeleton crew of staff, and along with our conservation volunteer groups having to be cancelled we are limited to what we can achieve. However wildlife and the weather mean that I’m still on 24hr call out for water level control and incidents, such as the fallen tree blocking the towpath on Easter Monday (they seem to be able to sense a bank Holiday).

“One thing that I have noticed during this crisis is how many more people are using the towpath and enjoying their daily exercise at this beautiful location on their doorstep, many of whom never even realising you could walk along the river, let alone that it’s owned by the National Trust.”

One thing that I have noticed during this crisis is how many more people are using the towpath and enjoying their daily exercise at this beautiful location on their doorstep, many of whom never even realising you could walk along the river, let alone that it’s owned by the National Trust. Spring is a wonderful time with blossom, wildflowers, butterflies and ducklings all making an appearance, and I’ve felt even luckier during this time to live and work on the river, especially having my two young daughters off school and at home. I hope that if one good thing can come out of this situation is that people will continue to take time each day to get out and enjoy the outdoors, it really is so important for mind, body and soul.”

Jo White, Headteacher, Burpham Primary School
“On the 20th March school life as we knew it changed with the announcement that all schools should ‘close until further notice’ for all but a small minority of children. Headteachers like myself from all over the country suddenly found themselves faced (after very little notice or guidance) with the challenge of running a virtual school, a childcare centre and a food service. It feels like a lifetime ago that the school was buzzing with over 400 children and 80 plus staff and I think it is the eerie quietness of the building now we are down to less than 5% of that which is the most unsettling.

“I am so appreciative of our strong school community and the support from staff and parents has been incredible.”

I am so appreciative of our strong school community and the support from staff and parents has been incredible. We all have a mental list of the things we would like to get done if we only had the time but actually most of my list has gone by the wayside and I’ve decided that the only way through this
is one day at a time. It feels too early to be talking about silver linings when so many families are facing such loss and hardship, but I hope that the ‘powers that be’ will reflect on the things that really matter and it may be that education is never quite the same again…”

Rev Jo & Rev James Levasier, Burpham Church
“Living under lockdown has been an interesting experience for us as I am
sure it has for other families. Suddenly finding you’re ‘stuck’ with each other all the time and having to do everything online has not been without its challenges. A month ago, I’d never even heard of Zoom and Teams, and we’d never explored live streaming, whereas now the whole family is involved in this every day. A steep learning curve! We are very mindful that others are in much more difficult places, and it has been very frustrating at times that we are not able to get out there and do more. I am constantly grateful for the gift of technology and the wealth we live in which gives us access to a whole host of ways of communicating.

The Levasiers under lockdown

Other pluses: we’ve eaten a lot more meals together, developed some new family traditions and haven’t had to get up so early for school! Most of all I think this has made me appreciate the amazing people who make up our church family as I’ve seen them in action in the community.”

“A month ago, I’d never even heard of Zoom and Teams, and we’d never explored live streaming, whereas now the whole family is involved in this every day.”

Russell Brown, Director, CMB Accountants
“It has certainly been an unusual time during lockdown. It’s getting easier now, but initially it was a real struggle trying to assist our three children with their schoolwork who seem to think I can instantly recall what I learnt in my lessons some 37 years ago! We find the daily exercise routine very rewarding, and an opportunity for us all to get out. It’s been great exploring the trails around Burpham Nature Reserve, a lovely area. It’s good to also see familiar faces doing the same things as you – there is a real feeling in the community that we are all in it together. Helping neighbours with their shopping and medication has become part of the routine. Alternating workdays between home and office has been a nice change, and one that will probably continue. Clients have needed assistance with COVID-19 Business Support measures, and it has been a pleasure helping them
with this process.

“It has certainly been an unusual time during lockdown. It’s getting easier now, but initially it was a real struggle…”

From a business perspective, the impact has been dramatic for those adversely affected. Typically, this has seen an abrupt fall in income, or having to adapt to new working patterns or practice. The emphasis has been on helping clients to fully understand the business support measures available to them. The headline announcements include the Job Retention scheme for furloughed staff or the Self-Employment Support scheme. Both of these aim to preserve the majority of an individual’s earnings subject to certain conditions and duration. Other support measures or deferral of tax payments may also be available in certain instances. At the moment, routine compliance work has understandably been put on the backburner, with the priority being on trying to ensure that clients are in the best position that they can be once things return to some sort of normality.

Hopefully, things will return to normality as soon as possible, and the footie season can resume – those premier league tickets are not looking such a good purchase at the moment. Stay safe everyone.”

Kate Carriett, Headteacher, George Abbot School
“Being Headteacher at George Abbot is the sort of job where no two days are ever the same. Interactions with people are at the core of any teacher’s work. Not seeing most of those people in person for 5 weeks has brought many challenges!
We were expecting schools to close but not quite as soon as they did, so there was a lot of quick work to be done. I am really proud of the school team’s response. We have virtual learning working for all of our students and daily education support at school still being provided for the children of our key workers and those who are most vulnerable. Assemblies are being delivered, teachers are providing lots of resources and lessons by Zoom, work is being submitted remotely.

“We were expecting schools to close but not quite as soon as they did, so there was a lot of quick work to be done. I am really proud of the school team’s response.”

I am dividing my time between being at school and working from home. There, my husband and two sons are busy with remote work and education and there are moments of both calm and chaos. I have tried really hard to keep in touch with the outside every day – in the last five weeks, like many of you, I have taken great joy in the leaves unfurling, the bluebells emerging, the crescendo of birdsong as traffic noise has dimmed and the simple pleasure of seeing the sun go down at the end of the day.

Best wishes to all in our community for courage and good health.”

It’s been interesting to hear how we are all dealing with the lockdown in our own ways and coping with the individual challenges that our jobs are presenting. I do hope that you too have found some comfort in these shared experiences.


Community Spotlight:

Unearth Burpham’s past with local historian Moira MacQuaide-Hall

Interview by Paul Nicholls

Continuing with our series of interviews talking to our local community, learning about the many interesting and inspiring people in Burpham and Jacobs Well, we talk to our local historian Moira MacQuaide-Hall.

Moira writes the local history features in Burpham Pages and is the author of two local history books: Burpham – A Gateway to Guildford and A History of Burpham Primary School 1908-2014. Some of our readers have asked if they could find out a little more about the person behind the research so we caught up with Moira recently and turned the spotlight on her, rather than the village.

We asked how long Moira has lived in and around Burpham?
I have never lived in Burpham! I live just the other side of the old AA roundabout, so it’s not far.

What motivated you to move to the area originally?
I moved from Cranleigh in the early 1990s because I was working in Guildford and my husband moved to a job in Guildford, so it seemed sensible to move into the town. I wanted Burpham or Merrow in order to get my little daughter into a good school.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, where you were brought up, your family and your professional career to date?
I was born and brought up in Northampton, but have moved south gradually over the years. I lived in Oxford for 17 years, then we moved to Surrey. I spent 17 years as a Management Trainer in the NHS, then after redundancy I became the Bursar at Burpham Primary School, which my daughter was attending. I retired in 2012 and now spend a lot of my time doing things with U3A locally. (U3A is a UK-wide movement which brings together people in their ‘third age’ to develop their interests and continue their learning in a friendly and informal environment).

Are you interested in local history generally or was it Burpham that inspired you to start researching your local and surrounding areas?
I was never good at history at school – being thrown out of the O-level class for failing my mock exams! I became interested in the history of Burpham Primary School when I was a parent governor, then Bursar, and that involved finding out quite a lot about the village as well. While selling my book about the school I found that lots of people said “I remember…” or “that reminds me…” and I decided that if someone didn’t gather up the memories then they would be lost.

Do you have any history, writing or journalism qualifications or previous experience?
No, my professional qualifications were all in personnel management, training and then school business management. I had never written any articles or books before, but had to write lots of reports and speak on courses over the years in my various jobs.

What changes have you seen in the village since you’ve lived locally?
When I first moved to Surrey the M25 hadn’t been finished and it seemed to be more rural around the village. I just missed the Green Man being a proper pub rather than a Harvester, but I did enjoy using the pub for many years until it was closed. I was very sad that the village lost such a community facility. It seems daft that the village has grown so much over the last 50 years, but it now has only one pub instead of two – and has inherited traffic problems in place of the pub! I remember Penny’s Hardware, the flower shop and the video shop that also sold lovely hand made cards in the parade. Also St Mary of Pity Catholic Church in New Inn Lane. So much has changed and so much history is lost.

Tell us about the process of writing your books, ‘Burpham: A gateway to Guildford’ and ‘A History of Burpham Primary School’?
I started writing A History of Burpham Primary School shortly after I retired. I was lucky that we had celebrated the Centenary of the school in 2008 and, as I knew I wanted to write a history book, I had contacted lots of ex-pupils, staff and parents, many of whom shared memories and photos with me. So I had a good start. The school had the old School Log Books, dating from 1908 to 1992, which I was able to borrow and use. There were also other old records held in the school, such as the original Admission Book. Then there are records held at the Surrey History Centre in Woking – some of which make fascinating reading. But the most interesting part of researching both books was from talking to people, hearing their memories and stories, or seeing their photos. I do a lot of family history and was able to find out about many of the families living in the area in the 19th/20th centuries through census records. I am very grateful to others who have done research about the area in the past, including Norman Hamilton, Roger Marjoribanks, Karen Robinson and Frank Phillipson.

How easy has it been to unearth the history of the local area?
One of the challenges of researching both family and local history is the amount of information that has been lost – thrown away as deemed to be not useful any more. I always think that writing a history raises as many questions about the past as it does provide answers! There is so much that I would love to know about, but there just don’t seem to be records in existence.

What have you learned about this area and the local community that has had the most impact on you as a local resident?
As a relative newcomer to Burpham I was fascinated to find out that it had been mainly a farming community until World War 2. My mother’s family were farmers and it’s sad that so much farmland has now been developed into housing and we have to import food from abroad. Looking at records going back to the 1500s at St Mary’s Church in Worplesdon, and others records right up to the 20th century, it’s interesting to see that some family names are still in the area – maybe not actually in Burpham, but still fairly local.

I decided that if someone didn’t gather up the memories then they would be lost.

What is the single most interesting fact that you have unearthed about Burpham or Jacobs Well?
I have loved finding out about the oldest buildings – those that were around in the original Manor of Burpham in Tudor times. It’s amazing that houses built in the 1500s and 1600s are still standing and they look so beautiful. In modern Burpham there is only New Inn Farmhouse left that is older than 17th century, but Jacob’s Well has several including Willow Grange and Burpham Court House at the end of Clay Lane. I wish that Burpham Court Farm could be opened up again – the farmhouse is Victorian but parts of the cottages were 17th century and parts of the barns were very old as well.

How have you found the experience of distributing your books online through Amazon?
It’s a good way of getting books to a wider audience. I offer free delivery to anyone buying locally, but if a purchase is through Amazon then they have to pay postage even if I put it through the letterbox!

Do have any plans for further local history books or even books based on a wider area?
I had thought about researching the history of some of the houses in Burpham, but when I floated the idea there was no response. It would need people being willing to share information from their house deeds as well as looking back at census and electoral roll data. At present I am too busy with
U3A, where I give a lot of talks – some about Burpham, some about other local history subjects and some about family history. I get asked to give talks to other groups as well, such as the Burpham Winter Lectures and local history groups. I also write my local history column for Burpham Pages.

What has been the reaction to your books, and your local historical knowledge from the local community?
I have had very positive comments from people who have read my books or heard my talks about Burpham. They are always fascinated by what I have found. Occasionally someone will pick me up on a mistake, and I am more than happy for that to happen. Not everything that is written down is accurate and if that is the source of my information then I will pass on that mistake. I hope that people will still get in touch with me with more memories about the village and the people who have lived here. Burpham is a small community but has a very long and interesting history.

If you are interested in Moira’s two books (‘A History of Burpham Primary School’ and ‘Burpham – A Gateway to Guildford’) they are available from her directly for £10 (free delivery locally), please contact by e-mail ( or by phone or text (07963 756543) or alternatively you can buy them via Amazon.

Also, if you are willing to share your memories and/or photos of Burpham then please also contact her via the above methods.

Community Spotlight:

The Benefits of a Challenge… Alain Michelotti – a chiropractor’s view

Interview by Paul Nicholls

Here in Burpham and Jacobs Well, although relatively small villages, we have many local residents who week in and week out do the most amazing things. Whether they are working in the local community, volunteering to help others or taking on inspiring challenges. We thought it would be interesting to talk to some of these people and find out a little more about their lives and explore what it is that they do and what motivates them.

In this issue we talk to Alain Michelotti, former principal at the Guildford Chiropractic Centre, currently on London Road Burpham. Previously Alain had run the chiropractic practice but the business has now been taken on by Philip Hehir and Annie Colman and Alain remains as physiotherapist and chiropractor helping clients to manage a range of musculoskeletal complaints.

In 2019 Alain decided to take on the challenge of the infamous GR20, trail in Corsica, reputedly Europe’s hardest long-distance trek. The full Grande Randonnée (GR) 20 covers one hundred and seventy kilometres traversing Corsica’s rocky spine, with a total of nineteen thousand metres of
ascent and descent, taking fifteen days walking for a minimum of six hours a day.

We asked Alain “what made you decide to take on the GR20 in 2019?”
“I had been dreaming about this for years but had always found a good reason such as family commitments or work to put it off.

Then, one day, I realised that it was becoming more difficult to bend down and get up again without using my arms for support. That was my ‘light-bulb moment’ – if I didn’t get on with it now, I may never do it – so I decided to start preparing for a major trekking expedition.”

Did you have anyone to do the trek with or did you go it alone?
“The GR20 in Corsica is known to be a difficult trek. It’s a waymarked route running from north to south of the island which goes through some very wild and beautiful scenery. Initially, I had some serious misgivings about the wisdom of the whole idea, especially given my advancing years (all 72 of them!) so there was no way I was going to do it alone. I therefore contacted a childhood friend who I knew to be a good moun-taineer and asked him to accompany me. Having got his agreement, I was ready to start to prepare both mind and body for the challenge.”

What about preparing for the expedition itself?
“Never having done a trek of this kind before, I had a steep learning curve ahead of me. Fortunately, the internet is a valuable source of information for anyone preparing for an expedition of this kind. The first stage was to obtain all the necessary equipment and to learn how to use it. I therefore set about borrowing, hiring or buying all the kit I was going to need. As I went through this process, I came into contact with a lot of people, whose
advice, hints and tips proved invaluable to me as a complete novice.

As far as the physical preparation is concerned, the best way to challenge and train oneself is to practise hiking. Surrey is full of suitable terrain for this kind of exercise but Box Hill became my preferred training ground. My aim was to be able to walk without difficulty for a minimum of 7 hours per day with a rucksack weighing approximately 15 kilos.

Several people provided particular practical and psychological help during
my preparation. Without wishing to name anyone in particular I will just mention a couple who own a small independent local sports shop where I bought most of my equipment, my trainer at the gym where I enrolled for regular training sessions and a couple of friends who accompanied me several times on my practice hikes. No doubt these friendly facilitators will recognise themselves if they read this article.”

Many people do this sort of event as a fundraising exercise, did you do it for personal satisfaction or did you seek sponsorship?
“At the beginning I kept quiet about the challenge that I was setting myself as I was slightly concerned that I wouldn’t manage to achieve my goal. However, thanks to the support and encouragement of my wife, I soon changed my mind and decided to seek sponsorship for a local charity.

That was my ‘light-bulb moment’ – if I didn’t get on with it now, I may never do it – so I decided to start preparing for a major trekking expedition.

After much reflection (there are so many worthy causes out there), I decided on TALK, a Surrey-based organisation which supports people with communication difficulties (aphasia) after a stroke.”

Ultimately, did the the challenge live up to your dreams?
“I have often noticed that the time taken preparing for an important challenge seems disproportionally long compared to the time taken by the challenge itself. Fortunately, this is usually compensated for by the intensity of the emotions generated by the undertaking. Indeed, such was the case for my trek on the GR20. Interesting people, amusing incidents, breath-taking scenery, fascinating flora and fauna – all came together to make this one of the most memorable experiences of my life.”

As a physiotherapist and chiropractor would you recommend this sort of challenge to anyone else?
“If you are in good health, my advice would be not to postpone embarking on this kind of adventure. It will be a source of both intellectual and physical stimulation. It will allow you to discover inner resources of which you were previously quite unaware. In addition, sponsorship can be a humbling exercise and you will realise just how generous people can be.
Speaking from my own experience, and contrary to all expectations, I returned from this trek in better physical shape than when I departed and now it is no longer a problem for me to get up from a squatting position without the support of my arms. Why don’t you give it a try?”

For more information visit

Donations can be sent directly to Joanna Matthews, TALK Aphasia Support, PO Box 655, Epsom KT17 9NL


Community Spotlight:

Blood Runners

Interview by Paul Nicholls

Here in Burpham and Jacobs Well, although relatively small villages, we have many local residents who week in and week out do the most amazing things. Whether they are working in the local community, volunteering to help others or taking on inspiring challenges. We thought it would be interesting to talk to some of these people and find out a little more about their lives and explore what it is that they do and what motivates them.

In this issue we talk to Howard and Graeme, two local residents who have become ‘Blood Runners’ with an organisation called SERV (Service by Emergency Rider Volunteers).

What is a ‘Blood Runner’?
Blood runners supply a safe, quick and reliable service to local hospitals and doctors for the transport of emergency blood and blood products. We also transport emergency medical equipment, drugs and donor organs if requested between hospitals in cases of emergency. The volunteers at SERV do this at night, free of any charge helping to release more money for patient care. They provide this service between the hours of 7pm and 6am, 7 nights a week, 52 weeks of the year, and all day on bank holidays (including Christmas day).

How did Blood Running start?
Blood bikes have been in operation since 1962 when Margaret Ryerson formed the Emergency Volunteer Service (E.V.S.) in Surrey, this was followed by the ‘Freewheelers’ action group in Stevenage in 1969 who initially served hospitals in Stevenage, Luton, Dunstable, Bedford and Hitchin. These original groups are no longer operating, but they inspired other groups and in April 1981, the Surrey group ‘Service by Emergency Rider Volunteers (SERV)’ was set up to supply a quick and reliable means of transporting emergency blood products to the hospitals and medical facilities at night.

The runners are all volunteers who receive no recompense for their time or out-of-pocket expenses, yet provide an indispensable and much needed service.

We asked Howard, a keen motorcyclist in his spare time, what originally motivated him to become a blood runner.
“Well, many years ago, as a child I received blood as part of a routine operation to have my tonsils removed. I remember then thinking that the availability of human blood was an amazing thing. Fast forward approximately ten years and at the age of sixteen I discovered the joy of motorbikes, much to my parent’s dislike. Fortunately, I took some training and many happy and incident free years of motorcycling passed.”

Howard continues, “In 2015, now a Burpham resident and parent to my own children, I returned to motorcycling and at the same time saw an advert for volunteer blood runners and in September 2018 joined SERV Surrey and South East London, Blood Runners. This brought together a way of giving back to the National Blood & Transplant Service and enjoying riding my bike at unusual times of the night.”

So, tell us, what does a typical night shift look like?
“That’s a hard question to answer really, I try to do a shift twice a month and each shift is different, there’s not really a typical shift. It is unusual to get a shift where you are not called, however what happens is we commit to a given night and on that evening we call the controller to let them know we are ready to go. He or she will log you in as available then you just wait for the call.”

…and what happens when your controller calls you?
“The phone rings and my controller will tell me what the job is, hopefully I have not gone to bed by then, although this has happened more than once! They tell me what needs to be done and where I might need to go, it could be to pick up blood from the blood bank at Tooting and take it to a local hospital, typically Royal Surrey, St. Peters, Frimley Park, or further afield into London. It could be to pick up a blood sample from a colleague blood runner who has come up from Portsmouth, meeting them at Royal Surrey and take it on to Tooting. It can also be just paper-work.”

What is it like riding your motorcycle on the roads in the early hours of the morning?
Howard chuckles, “Foxes!! There seems to be hundreds of urban foxes, even in Tooting. They are a bit of a hazard but generally see me coming and run out of the road. We still have to obey all the road traffic regulations as we do not have any special allowances to break the laws of the road in any way.

The runners are all volunteers who receive no recompense for their time or out-of-pocket expenses, yet provide an indispensable and much needed service.

Plus, wearing a liveried hi-vis jacket, our riding has to be of a high standard as we are representing SERV when we ride. Most of us are trained to advanced standards which helps us stay alert and safe at night. There is always the unexpected, like the car I followed on the A3 into London that was swerving across two lanes, it was Christmas Eve, I’ll let you draw your own conclusions!”

So, in what way do you find being a ‘Blood Runner’ rewarding?
“Ultimately it takes me back to the Children’s ward at St. Peters Hospital and my parents telling me that I have had a blood transplant. It was only several years later that I realised the importance of giving blood, which I have also now done. So, it really does tick all the boxes for me, I get to ride my motorcycle, with purpose, at unusual times of the night on relatively empty roads and more importantly giving back to both our community and our NHS service it’s a fantastic feeling of fulfilment.”

Whilst Graeme is also a motorbike owner, he chooses to volunteer as a driver rather than a rider, using his own vehicle, which brings extra duties during the colder months.

We asked Graeme about the differences between a rider’s and
a driver’s duties.

“The product we transport have safety limitations and cannot be transported by bike once the temperature drops below 3ºC. This brings in the need for drivers, as well as the ability to offer continued service in more severe weather, with the use of 4×4 vehicles. Another benefit of using cars is volume – a bike is restricted to two-boxes, where as a car can carry many more. We have one particular nightly run we call the ‘Hooleygan’. We collect multiple SERV group orders from Tooting and distribute them to various regional groups from a rendezvous near Hooley, Surrey. This is normally serviced using a car due to the amount of boxes being collected from Tooting.”

Every night, the dedicated people of SERV SSL are committed to supporting the NHS in your area. But can’t do it without your help. Run entirely by volunteers they are always looking for more people to join. Even if you don’t ride a bike, you can still get involved as a car driver, a fund raiser, or a controller. Please get in contact at or visit for more info.