Lions go “Daft as a Brush”

At its May meeting Morpeth Lions Club welcomed Brian Burnie from Daft as a Brush Cancer Patient Care. Daft as a Brush offers staffed custom made transport for out-patients to and from the Freeman Hospital whilst they undergo chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment. The original charitable trust was set up by Brian in 1989 to formalise his philanthropic work. In May 2010 Brian decided to specialise in the transport of cancer patients to and from the Freeman Hospital.


Brian started his talk by describing his early life in Heaton and his exploits as an errand boy for the local grocery store.  In the 1940’s and 50’s Heaton was also the place where you shared what you had. He also remembered his mother describing a neighbour who always smiled and helped people as daft as a brush. These lessons stayed with him and much later Brian used this phrase in naming the charity.


Brian said that four people inspired him in his philanthropic work.  These were Martin Luther King and his “I have a dream today” speech.  The other three though have very much more local connections.  One is Daisy Clark who established the Charlie Bear for Cancer Care charity and raised money for the body scanner.  Thirdly Brian had a chance meeting with Joan Pringle, Morpeth Lion Simon’s late mother, and learned about money she was raising to help cancer patients get to hospital.  Finally Brian is a big admirer of William Leech who gave away millions of pounds to charitable works.


Brian said that although he was the founder the real work is done by around 200 volunteers. Each volunteer is prepared for driving and escorting patients to and from hospital.  There is a fleet of 13 ambulances which are Nissan 7 seat people carriers although some larger vehicles are to arrive shortly making a total of 16 vehicles.  Each ambulance is adopted, not sponsored, by a primary school in the region and the ambulances make regular trips to their adopted school to spread the message.  The ambulances are painted in eye catching livery featuring the two Mr and Mrs Daft as a Brush characters.


An ambulance has a crew of two, a driver and a companion.  They will only take two patients at a time with relatives when required.  The philosophy is that the patient is the most important person.  The patients are delivered at the appointment time and the ambulance will either wait for the patient at the hospital or return when treatment is finished.  This avoids lengthy waits for patients which can happen with NHS transport.  Daft as a Brush rings patients before each visit to confirm pick up times which patients find very reassuring.  The Daft as a Brush volunteers also know hospital layouts and can take patients to the correct areas for treatment and other facilities.


All patients for transport are referred to Daft as a Brush by the Hospital.  The area covered stretches from Whitehaven to the west and the Scottish Border to the north but mostly the Northumberland, Durham and Tyne and Wear areas.  This year it is expected to undertake 10,000 patient journeys rising to 15,000 next year.  The charity started in premises in the centre of Newcastle but is now based at Gosforth adjacent to the Golf Club on the Great North Road.  Running costs are around £250,000 a year.


As part of the publicity drive Daft as a Brush is setting up a National Walk, the River Tyne Trail.  This will run for 130 miles from the two sources of the River Tyne to the mouth at North and South Shields.  Obelisks are being placed at the source of the Tyne to mark the start (or finish) of the walk which can be covered in around 12 to 13 days at a reasonable pace.  Brian’s ambition is for Daft as a Brush to spread all over Britain and even further afield.


Several Lions knew of the great work undertaken by Daft as a Brush for family members, friends and neighbours.  Afterwards Lion President Geoff Bushell  thanked Brian Burnie for his extremely entertaining talk and presented the charity with a cheque for £250 from the Lions.


A Daft as a Brush ambulance with Brian Burnie (in the driving seat) with Lion President Geoff Bushell and fellow Lions.


Lions Ian Brown (left) and Geoff Bushell (right) present Brian Burnie with a cheque for £250.

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