Lifesaving boats to live on: The RNLI and RCA search for sustainable solutions
The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) has been working with the Royal College of Art for creative solutions to upcycle materials from the charity’s old lifeboats.
The students were given materials that are currently unable to be recycled, such as Hypalon which is used to make the inflatable sides of the charity’s inshore lifeboats. They were asked to come up with ideas for how those materials could be re-used to create products to help the charity raise vital funds and promote its safety messages and its lifesaving work.
Ideas from the students included creating playground equipment to help the charity’s Youth Education team, keyrings that could be given out by the charity’s Face-to-Face fundraisers, and bespoke decorative brooches that could be sold in the RNLI’s shops.
Hannah Nobbs, Innovation Scout for the RNLI said, ‘It’s been great collaborating with the Royal College of Art and we are really excited to see the ideas from the different perspectives that the Royal College of Art students brought to the challenge of repurposing waste. We’ll now look at their ideas and see which are options that we could use in future.’
Kenny Arnold, Co-Leader of the project and student of Design Products at the Royal College of Art, said, ‘The main idea behind the Circular Harvest project is the belief that we can leave behind the old mentality of disposability by exploring ways of extending the life of materials through developing new products and services. Receiving the decommissioned D-Class in the post was an eye-opening experience. It was the moment when the idea really started to become reality. It wouldn’t have been possible without the RNLI’s openness and commitment to sustainability.’
Almha McCarten, a Textiles Design student at the Royal College of Art who participated in the project, said ‘Using waste material as a starting point for developing designs was challenging as I hadn’t thought about it that before. By focusing on what I could make with the material directly it made the process approachable and fun. I definitely intend to use this type of process again.’
In the past, the RNLI has also worked with BA (Hons) Fashion students from Arts University Bournemouth to look at ways of upcycling lifejackets that had once helped save lives.
Lois, one of the students involved in the project with Arts University Bournemouth, is now doing an apprenticeship with the RNLI’s Marketing Team. Lois said, ‘It was great being involved in the project with the RNLI when I was at university. It really inspired me to want to go on to work with the charity, and I’m really enjoying my time here.’
The RNLI also has a long-established relationship with the University of Southampton. The Advanced Technology Partnership was established in 2001 and aims to develop research and education in subjects of common interest to both the RNLI and the University of Southampton. This has involved research projects in engineering and management.
Hannah Nobbs, Innovation Scout for the RNLI said, ‘It’s really important to engage with students as they bring a great variety of skills and different perspectives that help us consider challenges in different ways.’
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Key facts about the RNLI
The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates over 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and, in a normal year, more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives.