RNLI volunteer lifeguard Aiden Coxhead
The RNLI provides a world class lifeguarding service on the UK and Ireland’s beaches.
Our lifeguards come from all walks of life and in Newquay this summer the team has been able to welcome Aiden Coxhead who is neurodivergent. Not only has this injected a big boost of confidence and ambition in Aiden personally, but it’s also championed RNLI lifeguarding being accessible to all, removing barriers and celebrating diversity.
Volunteer RNLI lifeguard Aiden Coxhead is 22 and has an autism diagnosis and learning difficulties. With a passion for lifesaving, Aiden set his sights on passing his Surf Lifesaving GB qualification and thanks to coaching and training from local community interest company Coastal Crusaders, he achieved this accolade earlier this year.
This qualification is the same training all RNLI lifeguards must do prior to applying. With that under his belt, Coastal Crusaders founder Tom Butler contacted the Newquay RNLI lifeguard team to see if they could help facilitate some volunteer lifeguard experience for Aiden. Lead Lifeguard Supervisor Lewis Timson was delighted to be able to help, and for the summer months, Aiden has been lifeguarding at Great Western beach alongside his mentor Tariq El-Sawad and they work as a team to provide additional support to the two lifeguards who cover the beach.
Not only has Aiden gained valuable experience as an RNLI lifeguard this season, he has grown in confidence, ability and ambition. He said:
‘It’s been really fun and I’ve loved the opportunity. The best bit is working on the beach, in the sun doing something you love. I’ve learnt how to use the rescue boards, how to recognise when somebody is in trouble, using the flags - it’s been really good. I wanted lifeguarding to be accessible to me but I wasn’t sure if it was possible, I was hoping it would be. I’ve had a great level of support and hope to be back next year. I feel my confidence has grown so much over the last eight weeks.’
Tariq is an RNLI lifeguard and works as a surf coach with Coastal Crusaders. He feels incredibly proud of how much Aiden has grown:
‘I remember coming down and seeing Aiden after he’d been told he’d passed his SLSGB award, and I felt like he’d gone from the Aiden I knew, to 10 times the Aiden, in one hit – it was a huge confidence boost and I’ve seen a lot of growth over the eight weeks. Towards the end of August, I cut the security blanket a little bit and encouraged his independence to do what he felt was right, and he did. It was a very proud moment because he was doing the job independently.
‘It proves that no matter your situation or background, anything is possible. It’s been a great opportunity to work with Aiden and elevate his skills in what may not seem possible to some people.’
Aiden’s autism means he likes to follow instructions very accurately, an important skill for lifeguarding when following protocols and procedures. He also is a very strong swimmer and likes to beat Tariq in the pool!
Tariq adds: ‘Aiden comes to life in the water! He has really grasped the three principles of lifeguarding - prevention, recognition, and rescue. He’s skilled in surveillance and will be the first to spot and recognise a potential situation. This is 90% of a lifeguards work and his confidence to use the PA to make an announcement, move bathers between the flags and using the whistle to guide them into position is really growing and it’s great to see that independence developing.
‘He’s a real asset to the team at Great Western, it’s a really busy beach and having someone focussing on that recognition and prevention is really positive for the team who are also really supportive of encouraging Aiden to develop his skills and confidence further.’
Tom Butler founded Coastal Crusaders in 2019. Its purpose is to inspire lives through sport, friendships and the ocean, while teaching people how to enjoy the blue space more safely. Tom first started working with Aiden in 2020 and during his first year he focused his learning on a surf coaching course, before moving onto the lifeguard qualification.
Tom said: ‘It’s all a bit emotional for me and Tariq seeing Aiden on the beach. It’s a full circle effect to see him come to us as a student, learn the ropes and climb his personal ladder and come out and have the confidence to start working with the public - that’s a huge accomplishment for the challenges he lives with.
‘Aiden’s confidence has grown so much and I’ve seen him grow from a teenager to a young man. The joy of our work it’s seeing potential in people, holding their hand a little through the process and steering them in the correct direction while drilling in self-confidence throughout and that’s what’s happening in front of our eyes. Aiden has broken through his own personal barriers and is inspiring other young people to go for their goals.
‘There is a lot more inclusivity and equality in the world now and the opportunities are endless if we’re supportive of each other and give people the confidence to be individuals.’
Lewis Timson is Lead RNLI Lifeguard Supervisor for the Newquay area. He said:
‘When Tariq and Tom came to us to ask whether we could support Aiden’s goal to become a lifeguard, we were really keen to make it happen. We were able to work with Coastal Crusaders and Aiden to understand his needs and the potential mitigations we could put in place to support Aiden, the rest of the team and also maintain the operational service. We also consulted with the RNLI’s Occupational Health and Safeguarding teams who were helpful in making recommendations based on what we knew about Aiden.
‘The RNLI supports a number of other operational staff and volunteers with physical disabilities or additional needs and we will continue to work on a case by case basis to support them. Primarily we need to be able to deliver an operational service to beach goers and water users, but if we can do that, and support others, which Aiden has shown is completely possible, then we absolutely will.
‘Where we can, we want to be able to support anyone who wants to come into the service and I think having Aiden on the team and showing what is possible is a really good example for the rest of the team and organisation. It also extends out into the wider society and will hopefully encourage other people who thought these kinds of opportunities weren’t accessible to them.
‘Taking Aiden as an example, it’s been a great process to go through and great to have the expertise of Tom and Tariq at Coastal Crusaders behind us to give us that guidance. Hopefully it’s an example for anyone working in any organisation to consider that just because something hasn’t been done before, it doesn’t mean it can’t be done.
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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