Youth Education Volunteer Walter Lee

A key part of Youth Education Volunteer Walter Lee’s role is presenting at schools and youth groups, igniting young people’s interest in the RNLI and giving advice on how to stay safe near the water.

Youth Education Volunteer Walter Lee
RNLI Youth Education volunteer Walter Lee at St Ninians primary school
A popular starting point is the book The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch.
Walter Lee
RNLI Youth Education Volunteer

What does your role involve?

I give talks to school children from ages 2 to 18, although my audience can be anyone from ages 2 to 94 – as my audiences also includes adult groups such as women’s guilds and Probus clubs.

I like talking to the young ones, especially Primary 4/5 here in Scotland (ages 7 or 8). They’re very chatty and responsive. Older kids tend to clam up when they become teenagers. They open up again once they reach 17 and become adults, because they want to be there instead of being made to sit and listen in a class.

How did you get into it?

I’ve been an education volunteer for 6 years now after taking early retirement. I’m keen on sailing and being on or around water. I’ve also known about the RNLI since I was a boy. My grandparents lived in Girvan. When I went to stay with them and heard the maroons, I’d run down to the harbour to try to get there before the lifeboat left.

What area do you cover?

I visit 20-25 schools each year, plus 5-6 roadshows as part of sea safety events. With the visits to guilds, Probus clubs and Round Table, it’s about 40 events a year. I don’t mind driving to events. I’ll travel 110 miles to give presentations. I’ve been to Inverness for Education Scotland conferences. Also Dundee and Kirkcubright (pronounced Kirkcubree).

I go to schools in Glasgow where some of the kids don’t know what the tide is. Some kids have never been to the coast.

What skills do you need?

The ability to communicate at the kids’ level, and the ability to interact with them. You need to be able to talk to kids at their level – intellectually and physically! And an understanding of what you’re talking about. As Education Volunteers, we receive appropriate training to ensure we do a good job.

I’ve got an outline presentation but it can go in any direction – depending on what reaction I get and what questions the kids ask. I do some peer group training for new volunteers. I help other education volunteers get started by interacting with them. But everyone’s got their own way of getting the water safety messages across.

I don’t have a background in education. My background is in engineering. I did peer group tutoring at work and project management, which has helped a lot in my role as an education volunteer. I worked on a change programme to change the culture of a government organisation into a commercial company one, and I did lots of talking to people.

Talk us through a typical presentation

A typical school talk lasts 45-50 minutes. We get basic props from the RNLI. I have accumulated things like lifejackets and other equipment over the years. I make things myself as well – things like my Buoyancy in a Bucket demo. We have a very wide remit. I ask the teacher what the kids have been working on. A popular starting point is the book The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch. I weave water safety messages into that by asking the kids questions like 'how did the lighthouse keeper get to the lighthouse?' and 'how did he make sure he got there and back safely?'

The presentations I give are not only on water safety. They tick lots of boxes across the whole school curriculum – science, engineering, maths, communications, heritage, citizenship.