Searchlight shines on three Oban women
Three women who volunteer as Oban RNLI lifeboat crew have been reflecting on a film where they talk about their volunteering, their lives, their community and their relationship with the sea.
“The story of the RNLI has always had women in it,” says volunteer crew member Leonie Mead early in the film.
“The women volunteers today aren’t the pioneers – others led the way. Grace Darling became a national hero in 1838. That wasn’t yesterday, was it?”
Leonie is one of three narrators of a short, atmospheric film Searchlight, directed by Dan McDougall. The film shows the breath-taking maritime landscapes around Oban and Mull interspersed with footage of the lifeboat, the CalMac ferries and fishing fleet at work with a soundtrack of modern Scottish music.
The film, which coincides with the 50th anniversary of the first Oban lifeboat, was funded by the Lloyds Register Foundation as part of a project looking at coastal communities, ocean citizenship and the challenges of living by the sea.
In their different ways through the film, the women – graphic designer Leonie, marine scientist Jasmin Manning and quarry worker Lawrie McMillan – celebrate being part of the RNLI but reject any suggestion that their service of their communities is somehow heroic.
In the film, Leonie talks about joining the lifeboat crew:
“Joining the lifeboat has given me the confidence to go ‘yeah, I can do it - why not?
“Being a volunteer isn't just a privilege. It is a way to grow and find out who you really are as a person. That's a learning for me and something I'll pass on to other women who join us.”
Lawrie first volunteered as a teenager on the inshore lifeboat in her hometown of Stranraer before moving to what she calls a new RNLI ‘family’, joining the crew of Oban’s Trent class all-weather lifeboat Mora Edith MacDonald.
“I suppose our role is to be a safeguard for the ocean economies, reassuring people that they can do their jobs and we will look out for them,” she tells the filmmakers.
“I've been responding to the pager for so many years now that I've trained my body how to react to the pager going off, and how to control my emotions to do the best physically and mentally that I can. It becomes ingrained into your system. It's a part of your life. You don't think, you just react.”
Jasmin travelled extensively before returning to her native Oban:
“Growing up around the water, I think sometimes you take that for granted. And I think, once you get older, you realise that's a really incredible experience that you’ve had.
“My sister works at the local ambulance station, and I've always been really proud of her. Even though it's her job, I just think it's a really nice thing to do to give something back to your community. So, I decided to volunteer for the RNLI.”
Filming took place over a busy period of little more than a week.
Now, Searchlight is touring film festivals and ocean environment conferences around the world.
Looking back, the three narrators’ memories are of a fascinating and intensive few days filming, of many outtakes, a lot of laughing at themselves, the encouragement of other crew members, and a slight concern at being the centre of attention.
“I think there were times when I wondered what they could possibly find that interesting about us!” says Leonie. “But, for me, it really highlighted the family spirit of our, and every other station, which is really something special – perhaps unique – and I am proud to be a part of that family.
“I hope that the film offers an interesting insight into the lives of RNLI volunteers. Many look at us as ‘heroes’, but we are all just ordinary people with normal lives to go home to.”
Jasmin says she hope the film gives people a more realistic view of the people who make up the RNLI and of the small coastal communities that rely on the charity:
“I would like it if the film inspired people to join the RNLI either as crew or as part of the wider RNLI family, and to see that the RNLI represents and supports people from all different backgrounds.”
“The final film is beyond what I ever expected,” says Lawrie. “It’s beautiful and its very real.
“I hope people see we are all real people in the RNLI. Behind it all, everyone has a story to tell. I hope everyone realises life is a journey and you never know where your life is going, as all three of us have realised. It’s okay to step out of your comfort zone sometimes.”
“And I hope that it might inspire the younger generation and younger women to follow their dreams and ambitions,” says Leonie, “whether that’s to volunteer for the RNLI or anything else.
“A saying by Sir William Hillary just popped into my mind: “with courage nothing is impossible”.”
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