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News > Alumni News > “Every success I've had is on the foundation of the education I received here”

“Every success I've had is on the foundation of the education I received here”

ALLANIAN Andy Mawson returned to Dame Allan's to talk about his schooldays and the unconventional path he took to become a life-saving flight paramedic.  
27 Mar 2023
Alumni News

WHEN news of jet suit paramedics taking flight in the Lake District made global headlines, the man behind the idea – Allanian Andy Mawson - was propelled into the media spotlight. 

As Director of Operations at the Great North Air Ambulance Service (GNAAS), a life-saving charity that last year responded to almost 1,900 incidents and emergencies, Andy is no stranger to dangerous and bold missions. 

His idea to use jet suits to transport medics and their kit to hard-to-reach areas of the mountainous Lake District in record speed was revolutionary, and he became one of three paramedics at the GNAAS to undergo training and trial the equipment. 

But exploring new technology is not without risk, and his own journey has not been without its challenges he told an assembly of pupils when he returned to Dame Allan’s to talk about the ‘unconventional’ career path he took after leaving school. “Failure is an important part of life; I’m only where I am today because I have failed on several occasions,” he admitted. 

“It’s your response to failure that’s important. The way to deal with failure is to have balance -  to explore the world and the possibilities that are open to you. Do things that don’t come naturally to you, and you’ll discover different opportunities you’d never expected or considered.” 

Andy’s talk as part of a series of events organised by the Schools during National Careers Week was both candid and emotive. With an image of his 11-year-old self, dressed in his Dame Allan’s uniform, projected onto the screen in the Newsom Hall, Andy spoke of his excitement to move here in 1989 and study, having experienced some bullying at his former primary school due to his eczema.  

“I was very studious; my studies were so important to me,” he said. “But six months after this photograph was taken, I lost my father to cancer. By the time I reached GCSE years the shock and the trauma hit me, and I lost my way. 

“At 16 I wanted to run away to the Parachute Regiment, but the same skin condition that caused me grief in my primary school prevented me from passing the medical.”  

Not making the Paras – an airborne infantry regiment of the British Army – is still one of Andy’s life regrets. “It feels like an unfulfilled challenge,” he admitted. He remained at Dame Allan’s to take his A Levels and, despite battling with intense grief, described life in the Sixth Form, with the independence it afforded him, as ‘the best years’ at school. 

“It’s the reason I like to come back and give back my time to the schools now. Although I lost my faith and lost my way a little, I believe that every success I’ve had since school is on the foundation of the education I received here,” said Andy. 

On leaving Dame Allan’s in 1996, Andy briefly attended university and then tried his hand at being an electrician before working in the security industry. A keen martial arts expert, he also taught at The Advanced Fighting Centre, in Newcastle. 

“In security I would work as door supervisor in Newcastle and North Tyneside and that world brought me into contact with paramedics and ambulance crews. It struck me that no matter what situation was put in front of them they were able to deal with it time and time again. I was inspired by them,” he explained.

“With the education I received at Dame Allan’s I knew I had the skills and the capability to reach that level, so I put myself forward for direct entry onto the emergency team of the North East Ambulance Service and succeeded.”

He joined as an ambulance technician and later trained to become a qualified paramedic, overseen at the time by the Institute of Healthcare Development. He worked for ten years on road ambulances before successfully applying for a role with the air ambulance in 2010. He furthered his career into management and today, is responsible for the clinical operation of the GNAAS. “It’s a huge privilege, especially for a paramedic without a university education,” said Andy. “It’s been quite an unconventional route, but I’ve been guided by the values I’ve held dear to me since I was a boy. It’s those values that drove me to return to education and complete a BSc (Hons) in Paramedic Science and a Diploma in Immediate Care.”

Addressing pupils, he appealed to them to understand their own values. “Really think about what you enjoy. I’ve genuinely never really ‘worked’ a day in my life; I’m doing what I enjoy and that has allowed me to experience some amazing things. I fly helicopters, I drive fast cars and I fly jet suits!” he laughed. “That wasn’t my calling at 16 or 18, it’s because I’ve done what I love, I’ve been driven, and I’ve been guided by what matters to me inside. 

“I believe that If you’re passionate about something, then you’ll succeed. Be guided by your values, learn to accept failure and find balance in your life… and ultimately, you’ll find happiness.”

Now a married father of two, Andy recognises the value of his education and defining schooldays. He also acknowledges the importance of strong pastoral care when reflecting on his own experience of loss and grief at such a young age.  

“I’ll never forget how supportive the school was when I lost my dad. Mr Balmer was with me, and I can still remember how tender he was,” he shared. “I don’t know if young people recognise the importance of pastoral care, but as a father, the mental health and wellbeing of my children matter most, and schools play such a vital role in that.” 

At 44 years old, Andy has a long career ahead of him. His focus now is on exploring new technology to further improve the capabilities of the GNAAS, which operates three helicopters as well as rapid response ground vehicles across the North East, North Yorkshire and Cumbria. With a cost of almost £4,500 each time it deploys a helicopter, the charity estimates that it needs to raise £8million a year to remain operational.

While trials of jet suits continue, Andy is continuing to look at emerging technology to transport paramedics more efficiently and cost-effectively to remote areas in the Lakes. 

“There’s been rapid development in eVTOLs (electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles), and, in theory, machines of this kind would allow paramedics to carry out potentially life-saving rapid rescue responses in remote areas of the Lake District quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively,” said Andy. 

With ambitious visions to ensure the charity is trailblazing the use of modern technology to help save lives, it’s unlikely to be long before Andy and his team are hitting the headlines once again. 

Yet despite his gallant adventures with the GNAAS, Andy remains humbled by the role his schooldays played in shaping the man he is today and conscious of the huge impact the loss of his father had at such an impressionable age.

Closing his talk, he told pupils: “It’s a real privilege to be here and speak to you. Never underestimate how important you all are to your teachers and the people in your lives at this school because you are our future pioneers, engineers, doctors… or whatever you want to be. You are the future.” 

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