'Something good out of something so tragic'
On 22 February 2015, Andrew McGeown, aged 32, drowned while walking his dog Arnold near the Spa at Scarborough’s South Bay, despite efforts to save him by the crew of the inshore lifeboat. His story could have ended there, but his family was determined to turn their loss into something positive for the town - in Andrew’s name.
‘As a family we quite frequently walk to the Spa,’ says Andrew’s big sister, Donna. ‘Andrew took Arnold to the beach most evenings. I never went down til last Christmas, but it feels different now. I go there to respect Andrew - it feels nice. My children like to visit "Uncle Andrew’s place" too. We tie flowers to a particular post.
‘Arnold is fine, spoilt rotten. These days he stays with mum and dad and, yes, he still goes for walks along the prom.’
In the 2 years since Andrew died, the Andrew McGeown Legacy Fund has raised around £20,000 - double its initial target, and counting.
‘Andrew’s legacy is bigger than the family ever imagined,’ says Tina Boden, the fund’s chair. The money has come in as donations and from a host of challenging and quirky fundraising activities - from princess parties to memorial rugby matches.
So far, the money raised has funded the RNLI’s first Swim Safe programme for children in Scarborough, as well as helping to provide improved safety signs on the town’s beaches.
Swim Safe arrived in Scarborough in August 2016, with over 400 children taking part.
The programme, which is run by the RNLI and ASA (Amateur Swimming Association), aims to give children aged 7-14 confidence when swimming in the sea.
Children receive 15 minutes beach safety advice from an RNLI lifeguard followed by a half-hour open water swimming lesson with an ASA accredited swimming teacher. It’s fun, and it’s free to take part. Everything is provided - T-shirts, wetsuits, goggles and swimming caps.
Parent Sarah Broadbent says: ‘Thank you for this wonderful opportunity for our children. They had a great afternoon at South Bay learning water skills that will help to keep them safe.’
Gareth Oxley, a friend of Andrew and lifeboat crew member, coordinated last year’s Swim Safe event. ‘It’s good for Andrew’s friends and family to channel their energy into something so productive and to know that something good has come out of something so tragic - it’s galvanised the community.’
Safety signs on the beach
A partnership between the Andrew McGeown Legacy Fund, the RNLI and Scarborough Council resulted in safety signs appearing on beaches at South Bay, North Bay and Cayton Bay last October.
Similar signs also went up in neighbouring Filey and Whitby. The signs follow national safety guidelines and highlight local hazards, tide times, the location of lifeguard patrols and other essential safety information.
‘Andrew McGeown’s legacy fund is having a terrific impact,’ says John Senior, the man charged with running Scarborough’s new state-of-the-art lifeboat station at South Bay. ‘We’re sure people will read the signs and spread the messages when they go home. What happened to Andrew was tragic, but what has happened since has been fantastic.’
Respect the Water
While fundraising is Team McGeown’s priority, they’re also using it as an opportunity to share our safety messages.
‘We promote the RNLI’s national Respect the Water campaign,’ says Tina. ‘Our supporters display the campaign stickers on their car windows. If we do anything with the target age group - for example our annual three-legged pub crawl - we’ll hand out Respect the Water beer mats and plastic pint glasses. It’s a message 20 to 30-year-olds understand, and get. And it fits with the Swim Safe message about being safe in the water.’
‘Andrew would have been proud’
‘What we’ve achieved makes me very proud,’ says Donna, who has a son aged 7 and a daughter, 11. ‘Swim Safe, the signs, and the police and other services working more closely together.
‘There are lots of holidaymakers on the beaches in Scarborough. As children grow up, it’s important they’re aware of the sea and its dangers.
‘The safety signs will always be there, and that’s important because one day they might save a life. There wasn’t anything like it before. People know to call 999 in an emergency and ask for the Coastguard. There’s a location code, so they know where to find you. The signs are very easy to see - you can spot them a mile away.
‘I don’t know what Andrew would have made of it. He would have laughed probably, that so many people made so much fuss. I think he would have been quite proud too.’
'We're not stopping'
‘I feel we’ve done so much, and it’s only been 2 years,’ says Donna. 'I feel very positive about what’s happened, but I don’t feel we’ve achieved everything yet. I want to keep going and do as much as we can.’
‘We’re really keen to do it all again,’ agrees Tina. She and Donna have their sights set on funding two more Swim Safes this year. ‘If we could raise enough money, we’d be happy to fund another project,’ says Donna. ‘We’re not stopping. Whatever we can do, we’ll do it - wherever we can.’
Find out more
Follow the Andrew McGeown Legacy Fund
Keep up to date with the fantastic work Donna, Tina and the rest of the team are doing to make Scarborough a safer place by following the Andrew McGeown Legacy Fund on Facebook.
Look out for Swim Safe near you
Interested in booking a Swim Safe session this summer? Keep an eye on our Swim Safe page for dates, locations and details of how to book.
Take a look at our tips and advice for staying safe at the coast, including coastal walking and dog walking.
Watch A night of courage and loss
Andrew's story is the subject of an RNLI film, which has been nominated for a Charity Film Award.