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Documentary highlights critical role of RNLI volunteers in Oban

Lifeboats News Release

The first in a new series of films commissioned by safety charity, Lloyd’s Register Foundation called ‘Searchlight’ has been launched today as part of their ocean safety campaign.

The documentary focuses on three young women who volunteer for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) in Oban, West Scotland, which has some of the most changeable and treacherous waters off the British coast.

The film is told from the perspective of Oban RNLI volunteers Lawrie, Leonie and Jasmin, all of whom eloquently detail the sense of purpose, belonging, community and confidence their volunteering brings them and how it is possible to find yourself in the service of others.

Leonie sums it up beautifully: “It’s been joining the boat that has given me confidence. Being a volunteer isn’t just a privilege, it’s a way to grow and find out who you really are too.”

Produced by award-winning film-maker Dan McDougall, the film has been beautifully shot in Oban which takes its name from the Gaelic meaning ‘little bay’. Located in the West Highlands of Scotland, it is the gateway to the Hebridean Isles and has approximately 10,000 residents.

The local RNLI has one of the largest rescue areas to cover in the UK and the waters around the coastline are deceptive, changing from tranquil to wild in no time at all. The RNLI crew rely on at least three different weather reports to give an accurate picture of the conditions, so it is easy to see how people get into trouble in these seas which next meet land in Canada, with the exception of Tiree.

The film sets the scene by describing the power of the Scottish climate and how it has shaped the people of the region. Indeed, the Scots have more than 100 words for rain from dreich (a miserable, wet day) to spindrift (a spray whipped up by the wind).

Leonie begins: “The story of the RNLI has always had women in it. The women volunteers today aren’t the pioneers – others led the way. She finishes: “Grace Darling* became a national hero in 1838. That wasn’t yesterday, was it?”

A theme that runs through the documentary is the RNLI crew as a family and community that supports and encourages one another. Lawrie came to Oban from Stranraer in South West Scotland for the lifeboats (her partner is a full-time Coxswain for the charity), knowing no-one and the volunteers at the station quickly became her close friends.

Leonie was born and raised in Snowdonia but has always been drawn to the sea and again, was welcomed by the RNLI family, who also include many other volunteers including youngest member, Andrew, longest-serving member, Ian (described as the “biggest hero on the boat”) and “heart of the boat” and full-time mechanic, Tom.

Jasmin is originally from Oban but after living in Australia for some time and witnessing the ongoing damage to the Great Barrier Reef, she returned home to train as a marine scientist at the local University of the Highlands and Islands, which has its own research institute, the Scottish Association for Marine Science. The film touches on climate change and the currently unknown risks the UK faces if changes occur to the Gulf Stream.

The crew’s preparedness and professionalism are evident throughout the film. Jasmin says: “When the pager goes off, you just go into the zone and get to the station. Going out on the boat in a storm, there’s an element of managing fear, because you don’t always know what you’re going to and it could be something that’s not necessarily very nice but I think you internalise that. There’s not really time to be scared.”

Lawrie says: “When we’re on call, you’ve always got that one eye on the horizon.” A point Leonie picks up later in the documentary when she says, “When you’re on call, there’s always a sense of disquiet. That you’re always waiting.”

The sense of community is a thread that runs through the series of films. As Lawrie says: “It’s through the spirit of community that I came to see the lifeboat station as the best of us. Something that I wanted to be a part of.”

The community storyline also links to the Caledonian MacBrayne ferries that serve the West Coast of Scotland. One of the other crew members, Andrew, works on the ferries when he’s not volunteering for the RNLI and the documentary drives home how much the local islands rely on the sea for providing transport for work, goods, visiting friends and relatives and healthcare (including the delivery of four babies on RNLI vessels).

View the full film here: Searchlight.

Award-winning film maker Dan McDougall, who created the film with his team from Miran Media, said: “As the team interviewed the RNLI case studies at the heart of this documentary, Leonie, Lawrie and Jasmin, it became clear that first responder volunteerism wasn't necessarily the act of sacrifice that we often conclude it to be. Within this powerful and uplifting triptych narrative, the story was less about getting under the skin of what it takes to be a rescuer, and more about exploring and understanding the personal growth of three very different women through volunteerism. Each of them had gained confidence, community and personal growth through their RNLI roles and their interwoven lives had given them a profound sense of purpose and togetherness.

“The film goes to the heart of understanding what it takes to risk your own safety and sanity to save the lives of others and then goes further again to find an almost unbridled joy and pride in doing something that serves others. Something that is emotionally, physically and creatively challenging. All consuming. To be an ordinary person doing extraordinary things.”

Ruth Boumphrey, CEO of Lloyd’s Register Foundation, said: “Through this documentary film, we honour the people giving their service to keep people safe at sea. Far too many people are still losing their lives at sea and this risk grows as the ocean economy doubles in the next ten years. As a global safety charity, it’s Lloyd’s Register Foundation’s mission to engineer a safer world – and that includes a safer ocean – and supporting the RNLI is just one way we do this.

“If there are other organisations out there doing work in this space and would benefit from us sharing this film or other ones in our series, please do contact us. As well as grant funding safety at sea programmes, we collaborate with partners around the world to raise awareness of ocean related safety challenges with a view to driving positive change.”

Jamie Chestnutt, RNLI Director of Engineering and Supply, said: “We are delighted to be part of the foundation’s ocean safety series and we hope the film gives viewers an insight into the incredible hard work and dedication of our volunteer crews across the UK and Ireland.

“As a charity that saves lives at sea, we play our part in promoting safety at sea and we are incredibly proud to share our knowledge and understanding with a global audience."

For any further enquiries, please contact Amanda Allan, PR consultant for Lloyds Register Foundation, on Amanda Allan [email protected] or +44 (0) 7926 286676.

Notes to editors:

  • Please credit Lloyd's Register Foundation for the film.
  • Lloyd’s Register Foundation is an independent global charity that supports research, innovation, and education to make the world a safer place. Its mission is to use the best evidence and insight to help the global community focus on tackling the world’s most pressing safety and risk challenges.
  • Dan McDougall is an award-winning journalist who has reported from 126 countries and warzones around the world and lectures and advises on international issues. Dan and his former BBC World Affairs Correspondent business partner, Navdip Dhariwal, founded Miran Media to unearth and investigate true stories through powerful documentaries.
  • 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 143,000 lives.
  • The filming of ‘Searchlight’ was photographed by multi-award winning visual journalist and author, Finbarr O’Reilly. Finbarr has spent the last 20 years working in conflict zones and complex humanitarian emergencies. He specialises in collaborative multi-platform projects that develop and promote a more representative range of voices and perspectives in the photojournalism industry while translating strategic and editorial objectives into engaging and compelling narratives that influence global audiences. Finbarr is committed to educational, mentoring and personal development initiatives aimed at delivering meaningful diversification of the media landscape and the promotion of social justice.
  • *Grace Darling and her father, William, a lighthouse keeper at Longstone Lighthouse, North Sunderland rescued nine people from a terrible ship wreck in treacherous conditions on September 7, 1838.

Finbarr O'Reilly

Lawrie McMillan, volunteer at Oban Lifeboat Station, in the crew kit room.

Miran Media

Oban volunteer Leonie Mead near at a loch in Oban.

Finbarr O'Reilly

Jasmin Manning, Oban RNLI volunteer, at the University of the Highlands and Islands.

Finbarr O'Reilly

RNLI Oban volunteer lifeboat crew running to the lifeboat.

Finbarr O'Reilly

Full-time mechanic Tom, on the Oban Trent class lifeboat.

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.