Sixth generation of volunteers prepare for Christmas in the 'Lifeboat Chair'
Volunteers at RNLI Walton and Frinton are preparing for Christmas, knowing that at any moment they might have to leave the festivities to answer their emergency pager.
For descendants of the Britton family it’s been that way since the station opened in 1884, with Henry Britton its first Coxswain. In fact, the crew were called out on their very first Christmas Day on service, to rescue 25 crew from a Dutch cargo ship, which had run aground on the Long Sand. Now, Henry’s Great, Great, Great Grandchildren, Simon Berry, Miranda Rayner and Tony Richardson keep the tradition alive. And while other families reserve the chair nearest the door for whoever is cooking Christmas dinner, in this family, the ‘Lifeboat Chair’ is reserved for the crew member ready and waiting to drop everything if the pager goes off.
Simon and Miranda’s father, Jim Berry, served as a volunteer from 1958 to 1997, eventually becoming the station’s Mechanic. He recalls Christmases when he was on the crew in days gone by: ‘Should you get the call, you want to be there as fast as possible. There’s no use being at the far end of the table, so, where’s the nearest exit? I’m going to put my chair there to get out the door first!’
‘When I started, my wife’s cousin was on the crew, his grandfather was on the crew, and his uncle was the Head Launcher. So when the Maroon was fired, there were four of us trying to get out of the door. There’d be the Head Launcher saying “I’ve got to go first to get the boat ready” and me and my cousin saying “come on you old boys, we want to get there first!’
Last year, RNLI volunteers along the east coast of England experienced their joint busiest festive period* since records began. There were 19 lifeboat launches along the east coast** from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day, compared with just two launches 40 years ago.
This year looks set to be one of the most challenging in the family’s 135 year association with the RNLI. The charity is facing a ‘Perfect Storm’, with more people drowning and a shortfall in funds, meaning support from the public is more vital than ever. As the festive season approaches, the RNLI is issuing its own call for help.
The RNLI’s Perfect Storm appeal has been launched in response to some major challenges the charity is facing. In 2018, the RNLI’s financial resources dropped by £28.6M, while its crews are busier than ever.
Trevor Halls, Coxswain at Walton and Frinton RNLI, also has family connections to the station going back to the 1880s. He added: ‘We don’t think anything of being on call at Christmas – it’s what we do and what we’re trained for. Christmas is just like any other day for our volunteer crew, if someone needs our help, it really doesn’t matter what day of the year it is.
‘But we couldn’t do what we do without the support of the public. The RNLI has experienced a shortfall in funds, but we are rescuing more people than ever before. We are facing the Perfect Storm and are calling on people to make a donation this Christmas to ensure we can continue to save lives at sea.’
To support the RNLI’s Perfect Storm appeal this Christmas, helping to ensure the charity’s brave volunteers can continue saving lives at sea, please visit RNLI.org/ThePerfectStorm
Notes to editors
*Festive periods calculated from 24 Dec – 1 Jan
**Regional statistics cover the east coast from Berwick-upon-Tweed to Burnham-on-Crouch.
The causes of callouts over the festive period have changed over the years. National figures show in the early 80s the most common reason for callouts was to commercial fishing vessels and powered craft. Since 2000, many of those needing help are often just visiting the coast and not out on vessels or watercraft. As well as slips, trips and falls, tidal cut offs are also a contributing factor to RNLI call outs.
RNLI media contacts
For more information, or to set up an interview with former Mechanic James Berry, please contact Miranda Rayner, Walton & Frinton RNLI volunteer Press Officer, on 07799 691852 or [email protected]
Clare Hopps, RNLI Regional Media Officer, North East & East on 07824 518641 or at [email protected]
Jim Rice, RNLI Regional Media Manager, North East & East on 07811 658072 or at [email protected]
Alternatively, call the RNLI Press Office on 01202 336789 or email [email protected].
For more information on the RNLI please visit rnli.org.uk. News releases and other media resources, including RSS feeds, downloadable photos and video, are available at the RNLI Press Centre rnli.org.uk/press.
Key facts about the RNLI
The RNLI operates 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and has more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK. 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 142,400 lives.
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 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and 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.
Learn more about the RNLI
Contacting the RNLI - public enquiries