Blood. We all have it. I guess it is one of those commonalities that we take for granted – well, at least until we need a blood transfusion.

There we are, in an emergency situation, hemorrhaging following childbirth, as I did, or through loss of blood caused by a road collision. Whatever the reason is for your need, you can be sure that someone here, in a Blood Centre such as this on North Church Street right in the centre of Nottingham, will have enabled that to happen – simply by voluntarily donating one pint of their blood.

It is to witness one of these selfless acts, by regular blood donor Julian Hughes – along with photographer Susana de Dios – that we are here, as part of our research to consider the state of the National Health Service fifty years on.

You can sense my hesitation. It’s true, I don’t like needles, so volunteering to observe Julian donating blood at least averts my mind from what I am about to witness. Except that, just as we are ushered towards a private meeting room, we are asked, quite rightly to leave, as this part is confidential.

Julian laughs later as he tells us there are many reasons why people cannot give blood on that particular day – some of which you will know, I’m sure. 

He also tells us that he gets nervous, even now – even though he has been donating blood for over ten years; his first donation being given on February 14th. He invited, as part of a photography project, people that he knew for a pint, only for them to discover that they were going to give a pint, rather than drink one; many of these are still regular blood donors.

Julian at the Nottingham Blood Centre, March 2017. © Susana de Dios

Julian at the Nottingham Blood Centre, March 2017. © Susana de Dios

Julian is invited to sit in a chair that is capable of being tipped right back; almost like the bucket seat that was in our red Ford Escort, back in the day when hubby and I were dating. 

Anyway, whilst this Blood Donor Centre is busy, I am not convinced that making yourself as vulnerable as this is a precursor to the development of romantic relationships – although Julian assures us that people do talk over their tea, coffee and nibbles that they have afterwards, but he reckons he is about twenty minutes away from that currently.

Julian at the Nottingham Blood Centre, March 2017. «The needle, as it goes in, is described as somewhat “irritating” and “scratchy”». © Susana de Dios

Julian at the Nottingham Blood Centre, March 2017. «The needle, as it goes in, is described as somewhat “irritating” and “scratchy”». © Susana de Dios

Meanwhile, the needle, as it goes in, is described as somewhat “irritating” and “scratchy” – although I observe that his feet are no longer twitching quite so much with what I can only suppose to be indicative of a level of anxiety; think Jeremy Kyle on one of the many TV screens has helped to help take his mind off it.

He laughs as he tells us, he once saw a snake being attacked by a mongoose as he gave blood, which had made him laugh and took his mind off the needle – he went on to state that the particular shade of blue that is in the room is comforting to him, as it reminds him of “engineering blue” (his Dad worked as an engineer).

The nurse also helps to keep him chatting, and he visibly relaxes.


“Every day is a different day; we get all walks of people here.”

With Julian’s blood flowing, she sets an alarm which beeps, slowly at first, but quite soon becomes faster and faster, until there is an audible increase in strength and volume, at which point, the nurse returns and informs him that he is all done.


“Seven minutes, that’s quick!”

Julian is astonished, as he tells us he usually finds the room quite cool, but today, as it is warmer, it seems to have “helped my blood flow quicker”.

The needle is removed, swiftly and with precision, and soon we are all sat around in a comfy area surrounded by an array of sweet and salty snacks, and where cups of tea and coffee are drunk in a relaxed atmosphere where there must be a real sense of relief, and what I imagine to be a recognition of ‘doing good’.

We depart the Blood Centre once Julian feels up to it, and decamp to a local coffee shop where we continue to talk. Maybe I should check whether I am able to give blood myself now, having been told that because I had a blood transfusion prior to blood being tested for variant CJD, that I would not be able to, I think this sense of giving something back could only be a good thing.

Photography © Susana de Dios

Text extracts from ‘Blood’ © Suzanne Reynolds