Lifesaving helipad to be built on Isle of Gigha

Royal Engineers from Kinloss Barracks have joined forces with the HELP Appeal for the much-needed project.

Royal engineers and charity join forces to bring lifesaving helipad to remote Isle of Gigha in Argyll and Bute Contributed

A lifesaving helipad is set to become a reality for the community-owned Isle of Gigha for the first time.

Royal Engineers from Kinloss Barracks have joined forces with the HELP (Helicopter Emergency Landing Pads) Appeal to build the much-needed helipad.

Gigha is one of the most southerly Hebridean Islands, three miles west of the Kintyre peninsula. It is around a three-hour drive from Glasgow, followed by a 20-minute sailing on a ferry.

Its rural and relatively inaccessible location can be problematic, particularly during a medical emergency.

By having a permanent, purpose-built helipad at Gigha Airfield, the Scottish Air Ambulance and larger coastguard helicopters will be able to land and take off at any time on the island, transporting critically-ill patients to the most appropriate major trauma centre or A&E hospital on the mainland.

Jane Millar, from The Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust, approached the HELP Appeal for support.

And, by coincidence, the charity had also been contacted by 39 Engineer Regiment in Kinloss, asking if there was a helipad project that it could be involved with to gain exercise experience of building emergency platforms.

The regiment is the Ministry of Defence’s high readiness air support engineer force.

Millar said: “The issues with the existing airfield have been raised for years, but there never seemed to be a viable solution for the community trust to take forward.

Jane Millar.Contributed

“We know how difficult the current situation has been for our local emergency services, so this project will hugely support their work, and ensure safe access to hospital for our community.

“To receive this level of support from the HELP Appeal and the Royal Engineers has been incredible.”

In 2002, the Gigha islanders managed to purchase the island for £4m under the Community Right to Buy scheme.

They now own it through the Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust.

Currently the island operates on a “landing strip” of grass, which is unsuitable for its volunteer ambulance service when escorting patients to a helicopter. It can become waterlogged and muddy delaying their transfer to lifesaving treatment at a hospital on the mainland.

Robert Bertram, the HELP Appeal’s chief executive has agreed to fund the cost of the project – £150,000 – and 39 Engineer Regiment, in conjunction with local contractors, will build the helipad. 

It is scheduled to be operational by April 2024.

Bertram said: “Gigha needs this helipad now as there is only one surgery on the island with no doctor, so thanks to our supporters, funding is available immediately and with the Royal Engineers on board I’ve no doubt that construction will be as efficient as possible, ensuring it opens this spring.

“Once built, the community will never have to fear that ground conditions will let them down again and they can be sure of a swift transfer off the island to hospital whenever they need it. I’m excited that this unique partnership will provide lifesaving access to hospital in an emergency.”

The HELP Appeal has funded or is funding 15 helipads in Scotland, including at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow, Raigmore Hospital in Inverness, The Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and Campbeltown Hospital.

The charity has also donated £200,000 towards portable landing lights for Scotland’s Air Ambulance Service for 20 island locations across Scotland. It has funded 45 helipads across the UK, which have seen over 27,000 landings.

Maurice Forster.Contributed

Gigha resident, Maurice Forster, 53, was airlifted to the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital helipad in Glasgow in December 2023 following a medical emergency.

He said: “The emergency services were amazing, as was the coordinator between them all. Within 20 minutes, I had arrived in Glasgow.

“The air ambulance is a crucial service, and a permanent landing pad in Gigha will make it even more seamless for our community.”

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