RNLI families in County Down appeal for help this Christmas for charity
Two RNLI families are asking people in county Down to support the charity’s annual Christmas appeal after volunteers faced an unprecedented year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The RNLI which has five lifeboat stations dotted along the coast of county Down, has seen a drop in income in 2020 as traditional fundraising activities had to be cancelled. This was despite the lifesaving charity having to spend extra funds to ensure its volunteer lifeboat crews including those at Bangor, Donaghadee, Portaferry, Kilkeel and Newcastle RNLI, had the vital PPE, such as face masks and gloves, to keep their lifesavers safe.
Yet, during an extraordinary year and while facing new challenges in saving lives at sea, lifeboat crews wearing additional PPE and adapting to restrictions, continued to respond to the pager and work tirelessly throughout the pandemic to keep people safe.
For parents Sue and Peter Irwin whose son Jack is a volunteer on Bangor RNLI’s inshore lifeboat, they know all too well how important it is for crews to have the right lifesaving kit and PPE.
Jack who is Bangor RNLI’s newest helm was always destined to join a lifesaving crew.
His father Peter was involved in the operational management of Donaghadee RNLI for seven years, first as a Deputy Launching Authority and later as Lifeboat Operations Manager. Prior to these roles, he was the Honorary Secretary for the local fundraising team for six years. He continues to volunteer as an RNLI speaker, delivering talks about the charity.
Sue meanwhile, is the volunteer shop manager in Donaghadee. having volunteered in fundraising since 2011. Since Covid-19, she has had to work hard to ensure the shop when open, had enough PPE and hand sanitiser to keep volunteers and customers safe.
‘We are very proud that Jack is a volunteer helm at Bangor RNLI,’ Sue said, ‘but I do also worry when the pager beeps and he is called out to save others who are in trouble. There is always such a sense of relief when he helps to bring those in difficulty back to safety but also when he returns home safely himself.’
With two members of the family on call 24/7 for the best part of the last decade, Sue is well used to family events being interrupted by the pager. And this Christmas will be no different for the Irwin family.
‘While Peter was involved in the operations side of the lifeboat station, it was difficult at times seeing him leave when the pager went,’ Sue continued, ‘and it is the same now when I know Jack in on call and Bangor RNLI’s lifeboat is at sea. I worry about what he might go through when he is out on a shout. Even at Christmas, we know that he might have to drop everything like the other volunteers in Bangor or Donaghadee and run out the door to go and save someone’s life. However, I also know how important the crew member’s role is and how rewarding it is for Jack to make his contribution just as it was for Peter and is for me as a fundraiser. The RNLI depends on the goodwill of others to support the work our volunteer crews do and that is why as a family, we would urge people if they can, to give to the Christmas Appeal.’
Jack added to his mother’s plea and said a donation to the charity would make a great difference: ‘RNLI volunteers have had a challenging year but thankfully, with many additional safety measures and procedures in place to ensure our safety, we have remained on call 24/7 throughout the pandemic. We have our standard PPE but now also wear masks and gloves and take extra precautions at sea. We know the extra PPE comes at a financial cost to the charity and during a time when fundraising activity has had to be halted.
‘The best Christmas gift RNLI volunteers like Mum, Dad and I can wish for, is a kind donation to our Christmas appeal. Funds raised will provide the lifesaving kit we need when we are at sea and helping to bring someone to safety.’
Meanwhile, for one teenager who has helped out where he can at Kilkeel RNLI since he was a child, this year Christmas will be extra special as he will finally be eligible to join the crew on his 17th birthday on Christmas Eve.
Andrew Young’s father Gary has been a RNLI volunteer for the last 32 years. Watching his father work as station mechanic and helm, Andrew was inspired to become a crew member at a young age and is now looking forward to making his own contribution:
‘I have been coming to the station with Dad for years and I always loved watching the crew prepare and train between call outs. I have helped out where I can but I am really excited now to start my own training to become a crew member and I will look forward to the day that I too can help bring someone in difficulty to safety.’
As a charity, the RNLI relies on the support of the public to continue saving lives – and that support is needed now more than ever. To support, visit: RNLI.org/Xmas
Photo 1: Andrew Young who turns 17 on Christmas Eve and will be eligible to join the crew at Kilkeel RNLI pictured alongside his father and longstanding volunteer Gary.
Photo 2: Donaghadee RNLI volunteers Peter and Sue Irwin pictured with their son Jack who is a helm at Bangor RNLI.
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.