Emma Ayres

In 2018, we shared a story by the journalist and best-selling author Caitlin Moran about donating blood for the first time in almost 20 years. The scene she painted – one of “hot dust, floor polish and tea” and “love for someone you’ve never met” – resonated with many donors.

In fact, there were so many positive responses in the days and weeks that followed, and so many donors replied with wonderful and heart-warming stories of their own, that we decided we ought to make it a regular feature – Humans of Blood Donation.

This is Emma Ayres, who's been sharing the joys of blood donation (and tasty burgers) with her friends.

Blood and Burgers was born in February 2018, when my good friend Chris and I went to donate blood together for the first time. Unfortunately, we couldn’t donate on the same day, but we both went together anyway for moral support. After each of our donations, we went to a burger joint together.

I mentioned to Chris that I had really enjoyed our blood and burgers evenings.

The name stuck.

So, when it came to booking our second donation, we decided to set a date in advance and start inviting people around the office where we work to donate blood with us. As we’d had such a great experience at the Nottingham Donor Centre, we wanted to encourage our friends who had never considered donating before to give it a go.

Blood donor Emma Ayres outside Nottingham Donor Centre
Emma outside Nottingham Donor Centre

The more we spread the word around the office, the bigger Blood and Burgers grew. We talked to people who couldn’t donate but wanted to support us (and, of course, join for burgers). We helped to answer people’s questions about blood donation and sent links to videos of the donation process so they could see how quick and painless it is.

Today, Blood and Burgers has six regular donors who get together every four months to donate blood together. We all book in at the Nottingham Donor Centre, arrive together, and take part in one of our favourite Blood and Burgers traditions – the donation race.

The more we spread the word around the office, the bigger Blood and Burgers grew

If you’ve given blood before, you know that on the funky machine that manages the donation there’s a timer that counts how long it’s taken for you to fill your donation bag. On our first donations, Chris and I noted down our times to see who could fill the bag the fastest, and we’ve done it ever since.

Blood donor Chris outside Nottingham Donor CentreWhen more people started getting involved, we upped the stakes – now, whoever wins gets bought a drink when we go for food afterwards.

(Picture: Chris, co-founder of Blood and Burgers)

It’s a silly competition, and we don’t do anything to force the donation to go faster than it naturally would – save for when Chris brought a stress ball, calling it his “performance enhancer”.

One session, when there were only four of us, the donor carers caught wind that we were having a friendly competition. As each of us had a different donor carer, they were cheering for each of us to win and told us what the time was when they patched us up. When we were all waiting in the rest area, the head nurse came to ask us who had won, and I told her Chris had won – to which she reminded us to buy him a drink when we went for burgers.

The other nurses came over and cheered for him, too!

Our goal with Blood and Burgers has always been to encourage new people to donate, and to make sure the rest of us keep donating regularly. Donating for the first time can be very daunting if you’re going alone, so we all donate together and reassure new donors who might not be as comfortable as we are with the process.

We always offer to sit with each other as we’re donating, and we all stay in the donor centre until the last person is ready to leave.

Donors Chris and Emma enjoy burgers
Chris and Emma enjoy a tasty burger together

My partner has a phobia of needles and is very squeamish around blood, but he’s always wanted to be able to donate. At a future Blood and Burgers, he’s agreed to come along so he can grow accustomed to the environment and see the donation process without having to go through it himself.

There’s no pressure on him to suddenly overcome his phobia, and we both know that it might never happen – but he’s been so inspired by our group that he wants to be able to donate one day.

I don’t work in Nottingham anymore, but every time Blood and Burgers rolls around again, I make the trip into the city just so I can donate there

While we started going to Nottingham Donor Centre (because it was the closest one to us), we keep going because of how friendly and easy-going the staff are. The first time I donated, the nurse couldn’t find my vein – apparently, it’s in an awkward position – so every time I go, I apologise to the nurses for having annoying veins, and we always have a laugh about it.

One time, one of the nurses told me off for apologising for my body, which was really sweet. I think about it often.

I don’t work in Nottingham anymore, but every time Blood and Burgers rolls around again, I make the trip into the city just so I can donate there.

Now that I’m freelancing, and I don’t get to spend as much time with my friends as I used to, the club has taken on a new level of meaning for me.

I get to do something great by donating my blood and spend valuable time catching up with my friends – what can be better than that?

Chris is now heading recruitment within the office with his trademark icebreaker of, “Are you using all of your blood?”

Surprisingly, it’s very effective, and we’ve actually recruited a few new donors this way!

Meanwhile, I take care of event logistics from home, keeping everyone updated as to when the next event is going to be and where we’re going for food afterwards.

I also take care of the Facebook group, along with Chris, which helps us to stay in contact with each other now that I don’t get to see everyone face-to-face.

In just two years, Blood and Burgers has gone from two friends donating together to a group of friends coming together to do something brilliant – and I couldn’t be prouder.