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Standing together as one crew

Please read this message from our Chief Executive, Mark Dowie, about the black lives matter movement. 

We are one crew

Photo: RNLI

Over the past few weeks, the black lives matter movement has brought racism and discrimination issues to the forefront of public discussion. Something seems to have awakened in many of us, which will hopefully have an effect of lasting value. In the last few weeks, we have witnessed events which have been generated by the huge surge in support of our black friends and family around the world and this support is rightly being celebrated.

The death of George Floyd in the USA triggered sad and wounding memories in others across the world. Understanding how widespread racist behaviour is; unconscious, conscious, minor slights, major insults, preference and exclusion, all causing scars great and small; is not easy subject matter and is often uncomfortable. None of this is easy, but I intend to learn and reflect properly so that the actions I take as an individual, and that we take as a charity, give proper respect to the importance of the issue of racism and make a lasting difference.   

The RNLI has weathered many storms over the years, and we are proud of our long history of lifesaving work and our rich heritage. For nearly 200 years, we have always rescued anyone in trouble at sea without judgement or preference; knowing that someone is in trouble and needs to be rescued is enough for us to act. And some of our modern work, such as rescuing migrants in the channel and our international water safety programmes, shows that the saving of all lives at sea is core activity for us, regardless of how different people have come to need our help. For many of us this speaks for itself and encourages us to think that, in the context of lifesaving at the RNLI, every life matters and is worth saving. This is rooted in our lifesaving history and will never change. But the messages of the black lives matter movement go to something so painful and deep-rooted that I firmly believe we should find it within ourselves to look beyond this convenient position of truth.

There are some things in the RNLI’s past that we are not proud of. Some individuals linked to the slave trade, as well as abolitionists, helped to establish the early RNLI. We acknowledge this part of our history but, of course, the RNLI today does not support or tolerate slavery in any way. For instance, we are committed to ensuring that modern slavery and human trafficking are not present in any RNLI supply chains. And we do not tolerate any disrespectful behaviour towards each other, supporters, or members of the public. 

In the same way that the RNLI saves lives at sea without prejudice, we aspire to be an organisation where our people are valued no matter who they are. We aim to be truly inclusive, benefit from diversity and appreciate everyone for their individual contribution. In our crew, everyone should be able to be themselves and reach their full potential. We want to recruit and retain the best people and aim to be truly representative of all sections of society. We have some way to go, but I am determined to improve the diversity of our people, and make sure that all parts of the RNLI are inclusive and safe places for those who have joined our cause to give something back to their communities, whoever they are and wherever they are from.

The RNLI also has a strong voice in society, and we should use this to reach the entire population. Although we have four lifeboat stations on the River Thames, and inland fundraising branches in diverse areas such as Birmingham and Manchester, we do not have enough racial diversity in our volunteers, staff or active supporters. Our water safety messages are also not reaching all parts of society. I recognise that this must change, and soon. I wrote about this in our Strategic Intent, Our Watch, which we published in January 2020, and with the help of our Trustees we will be taking this work forwards with energy, so that we have clear plans and actions before the end of this year. I would really like to hear from anyone who has suggestions that can help shape these plans to help the RNLI achieve real change. 

For our staff, volunteers, donors and supporters who have spoken on this important subject, I want you to know that you have been heard. I understand that what you need to see and hear are commitments to making lasting change. The RNLI stands together with you. We are all one crew and this is our watch.

Mark Dowie
RNLI Chief Executive