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Wales braced for record winter food crisis: Trussell Trust appeals for aid

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AS WINTER sets in, Wales faces its most severe hunger crisis yet, with over a million emergency food parcels anticipated to be handed out between December 2023 and February 2024. The Trussell Trust, a leading food bank network, warns of an unprecedented demand, translating to an average of one food parcel distributed every eight seconds.

This concerning projection surpasses last year’s figures, which saw the support of over 220,000 children and 225,000 individuals accessing food banks for the first time during the same period. It is feared that these statistics may climb even higher this winter.

While the generosity of the public has maintained donation levels, the accelerating need has forced nearly 93% of 282 surveyed food banks to purchase additional stock at skyrocketing prices. A third of these establishments fear they may not sustain their current operational levels in the near future.

The Reverend Canon Mark Owen, Chair of Rhymney Valley Foodbank, highlighted the gravity of the situation: “Last winter marked a staggering 94% increase in individuals seeking our aid. We anticipate even greater numbers this year. We earnestly appeal to our communities to rally behind us and ensure no one goes hungry this winter.”

Echoing the sentiment, Jo Harry, Network Lead at the Trussell Trust in Wales, expressed her frustration, stating, “It’s disheartening to witness worsening conditions each winter. While food banks offer immediate relief, they aren’t a long-term solution. A fifth of our population is struggling to make ends meet. This is not the Wales we envision.”

Emphasising the collective strength of the community, she added, “While an individual facing hunger might feel powerless, the combined efforts of thousands can bring about monumental change. It’s high time we eliminate hunger across Wales, ensuring no one relies on a food bank for survival.”

Residents eager to contribute can support their local food banks through food donations or monetary contributions to address the donation shortfall. For more information on how to donate or locate a nearby food bank, visit the official Trussell Trust website.

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Fishguard RNLI celebrates first female Coxswain in Wales, as charity marks 200th year 

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ON MONDAY, March 4, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) will celebrate 200 years of saving lives at sea. Fishguard RNLI Lifeboat Station is celebrating being both the oldest lifeboat station in Wales, as well as being the first Welsh station to have a female Coxswain. 

On the day the charity turns 200, the RNLI is revealing its volunteer lifeboat crews and lifeguards in west Wales have saved an incredible 3,891 lives during its two centuries of lifesaving.  

Since the charity was founded in 1824, its volunteer crews in west Wales have launched the lifeboats 14,872 times, saving 3,776 lives, while its lifeguards – who became part of the RNLI’s lifesaving service in 2001 – have responded to 8,865 incidents, saving 115 lives*.  In total across the UK and Ireland, 146,452 lives have been saved by the RNLI – this equates to an average of two lives saved every day for 200 years.  

Since 1824, the four lifeboat stations in Ceredigion have launched 4,848 times and saved 1,238 lives. In Pembrokeshire, the five stations have launched 8,563 times and saved 2,395 lives. Burry Port station in Carmarthenshire has launched 1,461 times and has saved 143 lives.  

Fishguard Lifeboat Station on the far west coast of Pembrokeshire was the first lifeboat station to be established in Wales. Originally established in 1822, Fishguard’s first lifeboat was built by locals. In 1855, local inhabitants requested that the RNLI take over the station. 

The station has also made RNLI history by being the first station in Wales to appoint a female Coxswain – Gemma Gill. Gemma has recently passed out as Coxswain and is thoroughly enjoying her new role.  

Gemma joined the RNLI in 2001 serving as a volunteer for North Berwick and Aberystwyth RNLI before becoming a full-time staff member.  

Gemma said:  ‘The first person to take me to sea on a lifeboat was a woman called Rhona, and she told me “don’t let other people decide what you’re capable of,” which has always stuck with me. 

‘While I believe it’s a matter of skills and experience rather than gender, I recognise the significance of this milestone. 

‘We’ve come a long way from the image of a lifeboatman in his oilskins, and, as the first woman to become an RNLI coxswain in Wales, I hope to inspire other women and girls to join the lifeboat crew.’ 

Although not officially part of the early lifeboat crews, women have always played an active role in the work of the RNLI, from the ‘lady launchers’ who played key roles at lifeboat stations assisting in the launching and recovery of vessels, to fundraisers such as Marion Macara who helped to organise the first recorded charity street collection in Manchester in 1891.  

Throughout its history, Fishguard lifeboat station has been awarded 28 medals. One gold, 18 silver and nine bronze. Today the station operates a D-class inshore lifeboat Edward Arthur Richardson as well as a Trent class Blue Peter VII.   

While much has changed in 200 years, two things have remained the same – the charity’s dependence on volunteers, who give their time and commitment to save others, and the voluntary contributions from the public which have funded the service for the past two centuries.  

Jo Partner, RNLI Head of Region for Wales says:  ‘I am immensely grateful to everyone who is involved with the charity across Wales – our volunteers, supporters and staff. Today is a hugely significant day in our history and an occasion we should all be very proud of. I know there are lots of events being planned across Wales to mark this very special day and I hope people enjoy being part of this special piece of history.   

 ‘I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to all those who play a part in making the RNLI the proud organisation is it today – which really is a cause for celebration.’   

RNLI Heritage Archive and Research Manager, Hayley Whiting, says: ‘The RNLI’s founder, Sir William Hillary, witnessed the treacherous nature of the sea first-hand when living on the Isle of Man and he wanted to take action. His first appeal to the nation in 1823 did not have the desired result but, thankfully, he persevered and gained the support of several philanthropic members of society, who put their names to the charity at a meeting in the City of London Tavern on 4 March 1824.  

‘Twelve resolutions were passed at that meeting, the core of which still stand as part of the RNLI’s Charter 200 years later. This shows how the RNLI’s values and purpose have remained unwavering for 200 years, despite the social and economic changes and challenges of the past two centuries.  

‘Hillary’s vision was ambitious and forward-thinking, and no doubt he would be extremely proud to see the charity he founded still going strong today, and to see how much it has achieved.’ 

The charity has a history of innovation, and adapting to challenging circumstances, such as: 

Lifejackets: In 1861, Whitby lifeboat crew launched six times to rescue stricken vessels in a storm, but on their sixth launch a freak wave capsized the lifeboat and all but one of the crew were lost. The sole survivor was Henry Freeman, who survived because he was wearing a new design of cork lifejacket. After this event, the cork lifejacket became more widely adopted by lifeboat crews.  

Fundraising: In 1886, 27 lifeboat crew members from Southport and St Annes lost their lives while trying to rescue the crew of the Mexico. A public appeal was launched, driven by local man Charles Macara. An 1891 appeal raised £10,000 in two weeks. On 1 October, Charles and his wife Marion organised the first Lifeboat Saturday. Bands, floats and lifeboats paraded through the streets of Manchester, followed by volunteers collecting money. More than £5,000 was taken on the day, which was the first recorded example of a charity street collection. 

Lifeboats: In 1914, over 140 people were saved when the hospital steamship Rohilla was wrecked. The ship had been en route to Dunkirk to help wounded soldiers but was broken up when it ran aground on rocks near Whitby.  Five lifeboats battled terrible seas to reach the ship.  A motor lifeboat (the first of its kind) from Tynemouth, took the last 50 people on board. In total, 144 people were saved by the crews, who worked for over 50 hours in atrocious conditions. The motor lifeboat proved its capabilities and became more widely accepted by lifeboat crews after this event.  

Wartime: When the First World War broke out, many lifeboat volunteers were called away to fight. The average age of lifeboat crews at home increased to over 50. During 1914-18, RNLI lifeboats launched 1,808 times, saving 5,332 lives.  In 1939, young lifeboat volunteers were called away again to war. By the end of the Second World War, RNLI crews had saved 6,376 lives around the coasts of Britain and Ireland.  

In 1940, 19 RNLI lifeboats were used to evacuate troops from Dunkirk. Two had RNLI crews onboard, while the others were crewed by the Royal Navy. The lifeboats and their stand-in crews saved thousands of lives while being shelled and bombed for days.  

Throughout its bicentenary year, the charity is running events and activities to remember its important history and celebrate the modern lifesaving service it is today, while hoping to inspire generations of future lifesavers and supporters.   

A Service of Thanksgiving to mark 200 years of the RNLI will take place at Westminster Abbey on 4 March 2024 at 11.30am. It will be attended by representatives from RNLI lifesaving communities around the UK and Ireland.  

For further information about the RNLI’s 200th anniversary, visit RNLI.org/200

*Statistics from RNLI Operational Data from 4 March 1824 to 31 December 2023 inclusive. A life saved shows how many of the people helped by the RNLI would have lost their life had the RNLI not been there.  

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St Davids crew at RNLI’s thanksgiving service for 200 years of saving lives at sea

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THE ST DAVIDS RNLI volunteer crew commemorated the RNLI’s 200th anniversary with a Service of Thanksgiving at Westminster Abbey. The event, held on Monday (Mar 4), saw hundreds gather to honour two centuries of courageous and selfless service provided by the lifeboat station’s volunteers to their community and those at sea.

Representing the bravery and dedication of the St Davids RNLI were crew member Chris Limbert and Deputy Mechanic Reuben Palin. Their presence at the ceremony underscored the station’s enduring commitment to maritime safety and rescue operations. Established in the early 19th century, the St Davids lifeboat station has been a beacon of hope, providing critical support to mariners in distress and playing a pivotal role in countless rescue missions.

The Service of Thanksgiving not only celebrated the station’s historic milestone but also paid tribute to the generations of volunteers who have donned the RNLI’s life jackets and braved the treacherous seas to save lives. The congregation reflected on the station’s evolution, from its humble beginnings to becoming an integral part of the UK’s maritime rescue infrastructure.

As the St Davids RNLI looks towards the future, the anniversary serves as a reminder of the unwavering spirit and resilience of its volunteers. The lifeboat station continues to uphold its mission of saving lives at sea, with the support of the community and the dedication of its crew members like Limbert and Palin.

Today’s service not only commemorates a significant milestone but also renews the commitment of the St Davids RNLI to maritime safety and the preservation of lives in the face of peril. As they celebrate 200 years of heroic service, the St Davids RNLI remains steadfast in its vow to protect and serve, ensuring that their legacy of bravery and selflessness endures for generations to come.

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Pembrokeshire celebrates as Bluestone’s Blue Lagoon reopens

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PEMBROKESHIRE residents returned to the Blue Lagoon at Bluestone National Park Resort, not only to bask in the attractions but also to support a commendable local initiative.

Previously, the Blue Lagoon welcomed both locals and tourists to enjoy its pool, wave machine, jacuzzis, and water slides. However, this opportunity was halted during the Covid-19 lockdown, leading to widespread disappointment among the local community.

Bluestone declared last year its plans to reopen the Blue Lagoon for locals through charity events. The inaugural event was a success, raising substantial funds for the mental health charity, Get the Boys a Lift. Nearly 600 community members participated in this event, which is the first among many planned to support the water park.

The proceeds from the ticket sales benefited Get The Boys A Lift significantly, with the charity receiving 75% of the approximately £6,000 raised, while the remaining 25% was allocated to the Bluestone Foundation.

These community gatherings aim to provide exclusive access to the Blue Lagoon for locals, while also raising funds for Pembrokeshire’s charitable and non-profit organisations.

The relaunch of the Bluestone Foundation and its community fund was highlighted during the first event. Local charities and non-profits are now encouraged to apply for funding, and to organise events at the Blue Lagoon.

Since its establishment, the Bluestone Foundation has contributed approximately £333,000 towards initiatives that empower individuals through economic, social, and environmental efforts. The success of the GTBAL event has revitalised the foundation’s commitment to these causes.

The forthcoming community event at the Blue Lagoon, scheduled for May 28th, will benefit the VC Gallery in Haverfordwest, continuing the foundation’s support for local initiatives, particularly those that engage veterans and the community through art.

Collaborating with the Pembrokeshire Association of Voluntary Services (PAVS), the foundation ensures a transparent and fair distribution of funds. PAVS offers guidance to applicants before their proposals are reviewed by the Bluestone Foundation Committee.

Marten Lewis, chair of the Bluestone Foundation, expressed his delight at the overwhelming turnout and support for the first community event. Lorna Livock, funding development officer at PAVS, echoed this sentiment, emphasising the significance of the partnership in supporting local projects amid challenging financial times.

This partnership with PAVS allows Bluestone to leverage their expertise in project initiation, compliance with regulations, and volunteer management, ensuring impactful support for community initiatives.

Organisations interested in applying for funding can do so through PAVS year-round, with details available for the upcoming Blue Lagoon event and ticket purchases online.

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