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The Northwest Human Milk Bank is the largest human milk bank in the UK and has processed over 8000 litres of milk since they launched in 2014. Their mission is to supply safe, screened donor breast milk to any baby that clinically needs it in England, Wales and Ireland. Based at the University of Chester’s NoWFOOD Centre, the facility offered a suitable premises for the Northwest Human Milk Bank to operate from, and they became one of the first commercial tenants in April 2014. Since then, the organisation has experienced substantial business growth with a healthy increase in turnover and the employment of three new members of staff.

NoWFOOD offers a comprehensive package of support helping to nurture young food businesses as well as provide research and support for established food and drink manufacturers. The centre has fully equipped individual kitchen units for producers to lease as commercial tenants in order to develop their business on-site, utilising the facilities and technical support on offer to upscale production. The Northwest Human Milk Bank occupies one of the incubation units at the facility. The accessible location of NoWFOOD makes it easy to distribute the milk to hospitals from Northwest Human Milk Bank’s network of depots. Strategy Manager, Jackie Hughes, comments:

“The NoWFOOD Centre is in an excellent location, close to the city centre of Chester as well as major motorway networks, making it easy to distribute our milk throughout the UK. Our office space within the facility is fit for purpose and provides us with everything we need to efficiently run operations.”

Milk is processed meticulously by the Northwest Human Milk Bank, using the facilities available at NoWFOOD. First, frozen donor milk is placed into one of the facility’s fridges to defrost. Once defrosted, milk is sieved into stainless steel jugs and mixed thoroughly, decanted into sterile bottles before being sealed with a tamper proof seal, ready for pasteurisation. A sample from each batch of milk is then sent to the microbiology laboratory, if the sample is contaminated that batch of milk is discarded. Once pasteurised, the milk bottles are labelled accordingly with a unique batch and bottle number, along with other key information. The milk is then stored in freezers before it is transported to hospitals. The facilities at NoWFOOD make this entire process possible, and there are staff on-hand who can assist when necessary.

Due to the nature of Northwest Human Milk Bank’s operations, it was imperative for the organisation to occupy a clinical operations room. The NoWFOOD team supported Northwest Human Milk Bank with a transition into a clinical room at NoWFOOD which would meet required standards. Jackie comments:

“We have grown as a business and NoWFOOD supported us with moving into a more clinical and suitable operations room. The transition was smooth due to the great support from the NoWFOOD team.”

The Northwest Human Milk Bank has continued to go from strength to strength since operating from NoWFOOD. As well as an increased turnover and additional employees, the organisation has also formed key partnerships which has further improved their efficiency. For instance, a partnership with P&O Ferries has meant that milk can be transported to Ireland quickly and effectively when needed. This has had a significant impact. In February 2018, North West Human Milk Bank received an urgent call from a hospital in Dublin. They urgently needed donor milk but the Irish Milk Bank were unable to supply. Thanks to Northwest Human Milk Bank and their partnership with P&O Ferries, Cheshire and Merseyside blood bikes safe donor milk was transported to Dublin overnight where the Irish Blood Bikers took over to transport locally and throughout Northern and Southern Ireland, after receiving free passage from P&O Ferries. This is a great example of how the team at Northwest Human Milk Bank works with other key partners efficiently and effectively.

Strategy Manager Jackie Hughes has also recently become Chair of Trustees for the United Kingdom Association for Milk Banks (UKAMB). Milk banking is currently unregulated and this organisation strives to ensure the best possible governance is in place. Their main goal is to ensure that all babies on clinical request have access to screened high quality donor breast milk and UKAMB is currently working on a strategy to achieve this.

Overall, NoWFOOD has been critical to Northwest Human Milk Bank’s operation. The facilities at the centre have enabled them to expand and continue to meet increasing demand for donor milk.

For more information about NoWFOOD, please email nowfood@chester.ac.uk or call 01244 511421.