RNLI launches £250,000 local appeal for Minehead station upgrade
The RNLI has unveiled plans for a £1 million upgrade for Minehead’s historic lifeboat station
The scheme will involve extending and remodelling the 120-year old building to reduce response times and provide vastly improved facilities for the volunteer crew.
And now an appeal fund has been opened with the aim of raising at least a quarter of the cost within the Minehead and West Somerset area.
The station operates a 24-hour sea rescue service, responding to between 30 and 40 emergency calls a year along more than 30 miles of the Somerset and Devon coastline from Hinkley Point in the east to Lynmouth in the west.
It’s an area offering some of the most challenging conditions found anywhere in the Bristol Channel.
But although the lifeboats – an Atlantic 85 rigid inflatable and a D class inflatable – are both state-of-the art craft facilities at the station itself are not fit for purpose and there is an urgent need for more space. .
Minehead’s RNLI local operations manager Dr John Higgie said the station’s lay-out had changed little since it was built to house a wooden lifeboat powered by sail and oars.
“Just as the RNLI has over the years adapted its fleet to adjust to the changing patterns of sea rescues so stations need to be modified too,” he said.
'The deficiencies at our station have become particularly acute since our first women crew members signed up. The male volunteer crew currently change on an open balcony, with female crew having fashioned themselves a separate space in the cramped eaves of the building.
'Training is another major issue. The enlarged building will provide that facility. It will act as an effective hub for operations when we are working with other emergency services and provide a base for the all-important job of promoting sea safety in the community.'
Remodelling will see the station extended westwards onto land the RNLI has bought from the local authority, with the ground floor extension enabling the creation of a crew changing room with showers and a separate female crew changing space, a dedicated mechanics workshop and a souvenir shop.
But one of the most important improvements will be the provision of a full-length garage at the rear of the building which will allow the D class – normally launched through the harbour - to remain permanently hitched to its tractor, enabling the crew to shave minutes off its response times.
Dr Higgie said the difference would be immediately noticeable.
'We generally reckon to be at sea within seven or eight minutes of being called but currently the D class launch vehicle is housed in a separate building, which inevitably incurs some delay,' he said.
'Once the station is reconfigured and the new rear entrance formed there will just be a straight, 50-yard run to the harbour slipway, which will be a huge improvement.'
Building work is expected to begin in January 2022 and take around 9-12 months to complete
Minehead RNLI chairman Richard Newton said he was hoping for a generous local response to the fundraising appeal.
'We are fortunate in that the Minehead station has always enjoyed terrific support from the local community, who really appreciate the dedication of people who are prepared to put their own lives at risk to save the lives of others,' he said.
'That support has invariably been translated into financial generosity. Through shop sales, donations, fund-raising and collections our local fundraising volunteers and community are extremely generous with their time, skills and funds.
'We were thrilled with the success of our last local appeal in 2019 when we hit our £52,000 target for a new D class lifeboat in just six months.
'Lockdown restrictions have severely curtailed our normal fundraising programme, however the local fundraising team already planning events, and we shall be releasing details when restrictions allow.
'In the meantime we hope supporters in the Minehead and West Somerset community and beyond will rise to the challenge of supporting our selfless volunteers – and the work of saving lives at sea – by sharing our appeal on social media with friends and engaging with their own socially-distanced fundraisers.'
People wishing to support the appeal can donate and / or fundraise in a number of ways; Visit the Justgiving page at https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/Minehead-RNLI-Lifeboat-Station-Appeal
Or they can make a direct donation to the appeal by contacting our fundraising team at Minehead RNLI who can provide on-line banking details or a postal address for your donation. Call Liz Escott on 07877 952975.
If you want to hold a fundraising event or activity you can set up your own justgiving page by visiting www.justgiving.com and clicking on the Start Fundraising button
Notes to editors
· Minehead lifeboat station was opened in 1901 directly as a result of one of the most celebrated launches in RNLI history. In 1899 the Lynmouth crew, prevented by the weather from launching at their own station, hauled their boat 13 miles across Exmoor and launched from Porlock Weir to stand by a stricken schooner. The Watchet lifeboat was similarly weather-bound and the RNLI realised there was a need to provide an intermediate station to serve the Exmoor coastline. Both Lynmouth and Watchet stations have since closed.
· Minehead’s flank stations to the west and east are now Ilfracombe and Burnham-on-sea but the closest is actually 12 miles away at Barry Dock, South Wales.
· Minehead welcomed its first woman crew member – Karla Thresher - in 2007 and now has a total of five. Women thus account for roughly 25 per cent of the crew.
· In 2018 health service worker Karla became the first woman to take command of a lifeboat at the Minehead station when she passed out as a D class helm. She is the great-niece of former Minehead coxswain Harold Bushen and became the station’s first female Atlantic 85 helm the following year.
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.
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