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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.  

Charity

Hub Cymru Africa announces Sub-Sahara Advisory Panel as its new host

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TEN years after the founding of Hub Cymru Africa partnership, the Sub-Sahara Advisory Panel will take over as the new host-partner, replacing the Welsh Centre for International Affairs.

Following 10 years as hosts of the Hub Cymru Africa Partnership, the Welsh Centre for International Affairs (WCIA) will be replaced as host partners by the Sub-Sahara Advisory Panel (SSAP). WCIA will continue to remain a member of the partnership.

The Hub Cymru Africa Partnership does important work in supporting the global solidarity sector, and the Wales and Africa Community. We will continue to do this.

SSAP has brought invaluable expertise to the Hub Cymru Africa partnership from inclusion, diversity and our ongoing Reframing the Narrative project. This next phase of the Partnership will build on this work into the future, with an African diaspora-led organisation at the helm.

Announcing the move, Head of Hub Cymru Africa, Claire O’Shea said: “We’re grateful for the leadership and role that WCIA has given to the partnership and the global solidarity sector over the last ten years.”

“As we continue our work to better represent and serve our partners here in Wales and in Africa, and implement our values of justice and anti-racism, it is right that SSAP steps in as the new host of Hub Cymru Africa.”

Fadhili Maghiya, CEO of SSAP said: “The Wales and Africa Programme has grown from strength to strength over the years. Built on mutuality, lifelong connections and learning from each other, the programme has grown into a vibrant sector working in global solidarity. Through the inclusion agenda and important projects such as the Race Equality Action Plan, the sector is always pushing boundaries and involving communities across Wales. 

“I’m looking forward to continuing this work and building on our successes as the new hosts of the Hub Cymru Africa Partnership.”

Dr Gill Richardson, Co-Chair of WCIA said: “I’d like to thank the amazing Hub Cymru Africa team for all they’ve done over the past 10 years that WCIA has had the privilege to host. We celebrate all that has been achieved in supporting the Wales and Africa community, led by its head, Claire O’Shea.

“This new phase of Hub Cymru Africa will see our close partner, SSAP, host the partnership. This is an important evolution in Hub Cymru Africa’s story. We are still supporting the Partnership, but now is the right time to hand on the baton of leadership. We look forward to supporting Hub Cymru Africa going from strength to strength in the future.”

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Bags of Books returns to Milford Haven and surrounding areas this Easter

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THE INFAMOUS Bags of Books is set to return to Milford Haven and surrounding areas over the Easter holidays.

Milford Haven School who launched the project with Milford Youth Matters over 3 years ago are continuing in their bid to improve literacy skills and encourage a love of reading for pleasure by giving away over 700 books.

Thanks to funding from the South Hook LNG Community grant they have purchased books for young people of all ages and reading abilities and will be hanging them on the fences of the schools in their catchment area.

The community are invited to come and choose a book from the following locations over the Easter holidays:

  • Neyland Community Primary School – Monday 25th March
  • Johnston Community Primary School – Tuesday 26th March
  • Coastlands Primary School – Wednesday 27th March
  • Gelliswick Primary School – Tuesday 2nd April
  • Milford Haven Community Primary – Wednesday 3rd April
  • St Francis Community Primary – Wednesday 3rd April

Milford Haven Secondary School will also hang over 150 books on their fence after the Easter Holidays on Wednesday 10th April for those in our community who cannot attend the other locations.

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Charity

St Davids RNLI tasked to assist yacht with gearbox issues

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ST DAVID’S RNLI were requested to assess a 41 foot yacht with gearbox issues by HM Coastguard at 5:53pm on Thursday (Mar 21).

All-weather lifeboat Norah Wortley launched and headed in lumpy seas three nautical miles north of St Davids head where the yacht with two people on board was drifting.

Upon assessment, deputy Coxswain Mike Phillips made the decision that undertaking a tow was necessary and the safest way to assist the casualties.

The towed vessel was returned to the nearest safe and suitable port at Fishguard harbour where RNLI Fishguard Lifeboat provided St Davids volunteers with a welcome coffee break.

The charity’s lifeboat returned to station at St Davids at 11:30pm.

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