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Old and rusty RNLI collection box brought to life

Lifeboats News Release

An old RNLI collection box, dating back to the early 1900s, has been given a new lease of life by BBC programme, The Repair Shop, which means it can be used again to collect donations for the life-saving charity.

RNLI/David Riley

Martin and Elaine with Dom (left) and Jay (right) at the Repair Shop

The RNLI has been saving lives at sea since 1824 – as a charity, which has survived on public donations for nearly 200 years, fundraising collection boxes have been vital to the charity throughout its history, and it has introduced some iconic versions of the collection box over the years.

In September 2018, volunteer Penlee Lifeboat Press Officer, Elaine Bawden, was made aware by a lifeboat enthusiast, Martin Whittaker, that an old RNLI collection box, thought to date back to the early 1900s and originally from the Penzance area, was due to go up for auction.

Elaine said: ‘Having researched the collection box it soon became apparent that it was a really important part of our RNLI history at Penzance. The RNLI Heritage team were equally excited with this find.’

The auction took place in Penzance and the box was secured by the charity for £100. With paint peeling off, rust showing through, and the door closed and welded shut, it was in need of a serious restoration. Not knowing what was inside added to the mystery of this wonderful old RNLI relic from the past.

The box, weighing an estimated 150kg, arrived at Penlee Lifeboat Station on a pallet and was lifted by forklift truck. Many of the current day volunteers at the station had first sight of the rusty box with paint peeling off it.

Keen to find out more, Elaine then spent hours researching the box trying to establish its history and where it was located. During her research, Elaine came across a famous painting by Norman Garstin, The Rain It Raineth, which was produced in 1899. The painting depicts the promenade between Newlyn and Penzance on a windswept and rainy day. In the painting is a pale blue RNLI collection box on the promenade, which is thought to be the one acquired by the RNLI.

Last October, the makers of the BBC programme The Repair Shop got in touch with the RNLI to ask if they had any old relics in a state of disrepair. The collection box was put forward and the production team and their team of experts were excited about the challenge ahead.

Elaine and fellow volunteer Martin Brockman headed down to the Repair Shop Barn in West Sussex for a morning’s filming and met presenter Jay Blades and metal expert Dominic Chinea.

Elaine said: ‘Our visit to The Repair Shop was a very special moment for Martin and I. We were both thrilled to see the enthusiasm shown by Jay and Dom - they were just as excited as we were to be embarking on this exciting restoration project. I felt really confident in leaving our collection box in their capable hands. I hoped that Dom would be able to restore the RNLI collection to its former glory, just as it’s seen in early photographs, and to solve the mystery of what, if anything, may be inside! It’s fantastic to be able to bring it back to life so it can be reinstated it at Penlee Lifeboat Station, collecting money from passers-by, as it did many decades ago. It is very important to me to keep our amazing RNLI history alive, making sure that it’s preserved for future generations.’

Dave Welton, RNLI Heritage Manager said: ‘We were so pleased to acquire this historic RNLI collection box at auction and to be able to keep it in Cornwall as one of the new exhibits at Penlee Lifeboat Station Visitor Centre. The 120-year-old box was in a poor condition when we found it, so it’s fantastic to have it sensitively restored and continuing its life as an RNLI collection box, raising funds to help save lives at sea.’

To find out what happened tune into the Repair Shop on Friday 11th September at 4:30pm on BBC One.


The collection box in a rusty state

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

For more information please visit the RNLI website or Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. News releases, videos and photos are available on the News Centre.

Contacting the RNLI - public enquiries

Members of the public may contact the RNLI on 0300 300 9990 (UK) or 1800 991802 (Ireland) or by email.