We interview Hanna Sebright Chief Executive, of the Midlands Air Ambulance
Midlands Air Ambulance Charity
The charity that’s flying high
Jayne Howarth talks to Hanna Sebright, chief executive of Midlands Air Ambulance Charity, about the challenges that lie ahead for the organisation and her determination to make a difference.
It has been a whirlwind of a few years for Hanna Sebright, the chief executive of Midlands Air Ambulance.
Not only has she spearheaded a vast restructuring programme that saw the charity become completely independent of the NHS, she is just about to complete a £37 million procurement plan for three replacement aircraft.
“It has been an extraordinary journey,” smiles Hanna. “It has been a massive learning curve because no one had taken a charity through to independence before, this was a first for us all.”
Sitting in her small office at the charity’s head office in Brierley Hill, a stone’s throw from the giant Merry Hill shopping centre, Hanna appears remarkably relaxed about the huge changes that she has led since she joined the organisation in 2009.
She was appointed CEO just as the economy was taking a turn for the worse. The charity was adjusting to challenging times economically and it needed someone strong to lead transform the organisation.
Rolling up her shirt sleeves, Hanna dived headlong into the role and spent the first six months regenerating income streams to protect donations, reviewing the legacy portfolio (the charity relies on more than one-third of its income from wills), and introducing a lottery to bring in more money.
She admits it was like trying to control the turning of an oil tanker, but she had a firm hand on the tiller and through sheer hard work, drive and determination, the charity’s fundraising activities delivered positive results that year.
Then, Hanna then moved her attention to the structure of the charity.
“For 20 years the charity had been constituted to the West Midlands Ambulance Trust (WMAS) and being part of the public sector meant we hadn’t the freedom to grow or act independently as demand for the Air Ambulance Service increased,” explains Hanna.
“We were constricted in the way we wanted to develop in fundraising and administration, so we built a business case for the charity to become an independent entity and presented it to the WMAS Board, which approved it.”
That took place between May 2010 and January 2011 and there followed nine very hectic months preparing in establishing the new charity.
It meant implementing many changes: from setting up a new charity number, recruiting staff to the new charity, establishing a finance function, to drawing up a Partnership Agreement with the Ambulance Trust as well as appointing a new board of trustees.
In October 2011, Midlands Air Ambulance Charity was born and has continued to thrive.
“It was a very complex and exhausting procedure, but it has left us with the ability to recruit commercially astute staff and to plan organisational development,” says Hanna. “Midlands Air Ambulance has a very exciting future.”
Softly spoken, yet confident and assured, Hanna, a single mum of two teenage sons, takes all these successes in her stride.
Yet she seems surprised when she looks back at her career trajectory and her achievements so far.
After graduating from Kent University in 1984 with a BA in Social Policy and Administration, she decided to travel. But instead of backpacking around Europe or Asia, the young Hanna joined BA’s 747 long haul cabin crew and spent seven years travelling the world.
Marriage and motherhood saw her career path change direction and she worked front of house at Salisbury Playhouse for a while before resuming her career as a business development officer at New Hall Hospital in Salisbury.
It was the beginning of a long association with healthcare and patient care, which saw her move to Berkshire Independent Hospital as part of the senior management team, AEA (Atomic Energy Authority) as senior health consultant, and then to Real Creative Group, where she was business development director initiating the installation of the first wireless customer information system into Motherwell Railway Station, piping real time train arrival and departure information via a series of digital screens across the station.
RCG was subsequently taken over by ScreenFX and Hanna was appointed MD of a new operating division of ScreenFX called HealthFX.
Then, in 2006, she led a management buy-out and set up her own company to develop electronic health media screens for hospitals and GP surgeries, displaying disease and health awareness messages. Two years later, when she sought further investment for the company, she sold to Lord Sugar and became MD of Amscreen Healthcare.
Following the successful transition of her business into Amscreen, she spotted the advertisement for CEO at Midlands Air Ambulance and felt the urge to return to her first love: improving patient care.
“I’m enormously proud to be CEO; it’s the most rewarding job I’ve ever had in my life and it’s an incredibly popular charity,” says 48-year-old Hanna, who still lives in Wiltshire and commutes to the Black Country.
But she admits that being a single mother and working in a series of demanding roles over the years has been challenging.
“It has been a long, hard slog,” she reflects. “There’s no easy balance for women working in a management role and raising a family. In my case, I didn’t have a choice: I was divorced when the boys were one and three.”
Hanna thrives on a challenge, but not to the detriment of her young boys, Rory and Angus. Her priority was their wellbeing and a stable family home. But, like many working mothers, Hanna had the familiar albatross of guilt hanging around her neck.
“I had au pairs and nannies, and was let down by one or two who didn’t pick the boys up from school or left,” she recalls.
“I lived with the guilt until about 18 months ago. It’s awful because it gets to every bit of you, but I could see that they are great, gregarious lads with good souls and I have now moved on from the guilt. We are very supportive of each other and are very close.
“We’ve done OK; they’ve stepped up to the mark and I feel very proud of that.”
She’s also proud of MAAC and where it is going. Hanna has big plans for the charity.
She wants to continue the development of clinical expertise on board the aircraft through additional training and to increase doctor coverage across the fleet, while exploring extending the operating hours so that the aircraft can airlift patients at night-time.
All of this requires additional investment so there will be a strong focus on the fundraising arm of the charity with the development of a number of new programmes including clothing banks and charity shops.
“We are constantly looking at new and innovative ways to increase donations,” says Hanna. “Operating costs are increasing all the time and demand for the service is also rising, but we owe a huge debt of thanks to the members of the public, our volunteers, to businesses and associations across the region who support us.”
For more information - or to make a donation - to Midlands Air Ambulance Charity, visit www.midlandsairambulance.com, telephone 0800 840 2040, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Midlands Air Ambulance is the largest of the 19 air ambulance organisations in England and Wales, serving the counties of West Midlands, Staffordshire, Gloucestershire, Shropshire, Herefordshire & Worcestershire
It was launched in 1991 and has completed more than 34,000 airlifts, making it the busiest of all the air ambulance organisations in the UK
Midlands Air Ambulance Charity operates from three bases: RAF Cosford (Shropshire), Strensham (Worcestershire) and Tatenhill Airfield (Staffordshire)
Each helicopter is crewed by a pilot and two paramedics or one paramedic and a doctor
It needs to raise over £6 million every year to keep its fleet operational
It receives no Government or National Lottery funding.