Volunteers' Week: Celebrating our lifesavers
Sparing a few hours to sell souvenirs in a shop, making history come to life in a museum, launching lifeboats, teaching hundreds of children how to stay safe around water – there are so many ways to be an RNLI lifesaver in your community.
In celebration of UK Volunteers’ Week (1–7 June), we meet six people from the RNLI family to find out why they volunteer and how they make a difference.
Liam Sheringham, Crew Member
Liam volunteers as a lifeboat crew member at Lough Ree – an inland RNLI station south of the River Shannon in Ireland. Since learning to dive at 7 years old, Liam has always had an affinity for the water. Now, his whole life revolves around it.
‘When the RNLI first started here, I lived too far away to be able to sign up as crew – but I could still volunteer as a training co-ordinator,’ he says. ‘I really enjoyed that role and did it for 3 years.
‘Later, I moved house with my wife which brought me closer to the lifeboat station. I’ve been volunteering aboard our Atlantic 75 lifeboat for 2 and a half years now.
‘It’s a brilliant feeling to know you’re bringing someone in danger back to safety. We had a terrible storm here at the start of the year, and a sailor got caught out in the conditions. He was in grave danger.
‘I was on that shout and had such a great sense of achievement in bringing him back home. Knowing we can give back to the community, help others and make a difference – there’s nothing else like it.’
Keisha Strain, Shore Crew Member
19-year-old Keisha studies Level 2 motor mechanics at college in Dover, Kent. She volunteers at Littlestone Lifeboat Station every Wednesday and Sunday as a shore crew member and is passionate about her role – and helping people come back home safely.
‘This dude came into my college talking about the RNLI – it was already in my mind to join, but it really set me off in thinking: “I want to do this!”’ she says. ‘I wanted to volunteer to help people, get stuck in and become part of a team.
‘As shore crew, I make sure the boat is serviced so it’s ready to go out to launch. I hose the boat down after it’s been out on a shout and make sure it’s nice and clean. It’s really important to me to be here.’
Matt Thomas, Lifeboat Medical Advisor
Matt works as a consultation geriatrician at hospitals in Bournemouth and Poole, Dorset. Eighteen months ago, he volunteered his skills at Poole Lifeboat Station as a lifeboat medical adviser, helping support the crew with casualty care. But he soon wanted to help even further.
‘I used to live opposite the lifeboat station and always regret that I didn’t do anything while I lived there, so I volunteered to make up for lost time,’ he says. ‘My wife and I thought joining could be a nice hobby to have together. But now, we do it for the crew.
‘They’re the most professional bunch of volunteers I’ve ever met. They show remarkable dedication – they answer their pagers in the middle of the night and still go to work, look after their families… you can only respect that.’
‘My wife and I try to be as fully integrated as possible, so we also signed up as shore crew. We wash the boat, make the tea (which is very important, especially in winter when the crew come home from a freezing shout!).
‘Anything we can do to help at the boathouse – so the crew can get out and save someone in trouble – really helps.’
Mike Quenby, Heritage volunteer
Mike grew up in Aberystwyth, Wales – but when he married and moved to Hertfordshore, he became an RNLI member to keep his connection with the sea. Later, after buying a cottage in Cromer, Mike found a hands-on opportunity to get involved at the RNLI’s Henry Blogg museum.
‘Originally, I volunteered as a gallery assistant at the museum. But 2 years ago, we started running summer workshops for children, teaching them about the heroic rescues of Henry Blogg.
‘They say working with children keeps you young and I can definitely vouch for that! It’s tremendously rewarding – I get a great deal of satisfaction out of it.
‘Although we teach people about the RNLI’s history, we also educate them on how to stay safe around the water with family and friends. I can safely say that’s my biggest contribution to saving lives at sea.’
Angela Veldman, Education Volunteer
After living in the Netherlands for 15 years, Angela retired home to Courtmacsherry, Ireland, where the RNLI is at the beating heart of her hometown.
‘When I moved back home, I wanted to help commemorate our station so I helped the local education volunteer in his school sessions. He later asked if I’d take over.
‘I’m visiting around 15 schools this year. In every single class, I teach children how to keep themselves safe – how to respect the water, how to float, and how to dial for help in an emergency.
‘The younger children love role playing and I always try to bring a lifeboat crew member with me – two crew members came out to a class with me in April and the children adored them.
‘It means so much more to them than just looking at some pictures and I know they’ll remember our advice. I love it!’
Bill Kitchen, Shop Manager
Bill has been volunteering with the RNLI in Barry Island, Wales, since 2015. He helps run the Barry Island Visitor Centre and Shop – and also volunteers as a deputy launching authority at his local station in Barry Dock.
‘I wanted to get out and do something with my time, and I saw an advert for volunteers in the shop window,’ he says. ‘The shop is part of the visitor centre which is brand new in Barry, so we have a cracking team of fresh volunteers and we have a really good laugh.
‘It’s a really interesting role – ours is the only shop/visitor centre like it in the country. We have big, interactive screens that speak to you in English or Welsh; a history wall teaching all about the lifeboats; a lifeguard area to educate families about the different flags on beaches; a live callout map which tells you where our local crew have launched to in the last 24 hours; and interactive games like “dress the crew member” that put you against the clock.
‘My role helps save lives at sea because the shop brings in income to help launch the lifeboats so the crews can rescue someone in trouble. I thoroughly enjoy it.’
Over 95% of our people are volunteers – they’re ordinary people doing extraordinary things. And you could be one of them.
There are so many ways to be our next lifesaver. To find out how you can keep more people safe, and bring the next person in trouble safely home, visit RNLI.org/volunteer.