Rags to riches tale of charity champion

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OUR speaker at our May meeting was Mr Brian Birnie, who gave a very interesting insight into his charity, Daft As A Brush cancer patient care.

He began life in a bedsit in Heaton. After leaving school, he worked as an errand boy and teaboy at various firms before becoming an engineering student, hence his own business. As Mr Birnie modestly says, from Allen Valley to Doxford Hall.

His mentors who inspired his charity work were William Leech, Daisy Clark and Joan Pringle. He has clocked up over 40 years of general charitable work. It was a tax inspector who was instrumental in Mr Birnie formalising his work, setting up as a registered charity. He sold Doxford Hall in 2010 and there began Daft As A Brush, his mum being the reason for that name — not that she was DAAB, but was fond of the phrase.

They have ten ambulances adopted by various primary and first schools. One school is here in Morpeth, All Saints. The children are told all about the patients being transported to hospital for either radiotherapy or chemotherapy.

They are encouraged to decorate their ambulance and some schools have named theirs. One is Puffin Express, by Seahouses First School, and there is Byker Bluebell, by Byker Primary School.

As Mr Birnie says, all his volunteers are wonderful, sometimes waiting long hours at hospital while their patients have treatment.

It is a unique service. Patients are referred by hospitals and there are two people to each ambulance, a chauffeur and a companion.

The future is Northern Centre for Cancer Care at the Freeman Hospital office and a DAAB cancer walk, crossing the Tyne and 78 bridges on a 150-mile walk. The final aim is 25 ambulances, at £15,000 each.

A very unassuming man and his wonderful volunteers are enough to restore one’s faith in human nature. Thank you Mr Birnie.

Our next meeting is on Thursday, June 14, at St Robert’s Church Hall at 2pm. All welcome.