The RNLI has unveiled plans for a £1 million upgrade for Minehead’s historic lifeboat station.
The scheme will involve extending and remodelling the 120-year old building to reduce response times and provide vastly improved facilities for the volunteer crew.
And now an appeal fund has been opened with the aim of raising at least a quarter of the cost within the Minehead and West Somerset area.
The station operates a 24-hour sea rescue service, responding to between 30 and 40 emergency calls a year along more than 30 miles of the Somerset and Devon coastline from Hinkley Point in the east to Lynmouth in the west.
It’s an area offering some of the most challenging conditions found anywhere in the Bristol Channel.
But although the lifeboats – an Atlantic 85 rigid inflatable and a D class inflatable – are both state-of-the art craft facilities at the station itself are not fit for purpose and there is an urgent need for more space. .
Minehead’s RNLI local operations manager Dr John Higgie said the station’s lay-out had changed little since it was built to house a wooden lifeboat powered by sail and oars.
“Just as the RNLI has over the years adapted its fleet to adjust to the changing patterns of sea rescues so stations need to be modified too,” he said.
“The deficiencies at our station have become particularly acute since our first women crew members signed up. The male volunteer crew currently change on an open balcony, with female crew having fashioned themselves a separate space in the cramped eaves of the building.
“Training is another major issue. The enlarged building will provide that facility. It will act as an effective hub for operations when we are working with other emergency services and provide a base for the all-important job of promoting sea safety in the community.”
Remodelling will see the station extended westwards onto land the RNLI has bought from the local authority, with the ground floor extension enabling the creation of a crew changing room with showers and a separate female crew changing space, a dedicated mechanics workshop and a souvenir shop.
But one of the most important improvements will be the provision of a full-length garage at the rear of the building which will allow the D class – normally launched through the harbour – to remain permanently hitched to its tractor, enabling the crew to shave minutes off its response times.
Dr Higgie said the difference would be immediately noticeable.
“We generally reckon to be at sea within seven or eight minutes of being called but currently the D class launch vehicle is housed in a separate building, which inevitably incurs some delay,” he said.
“Once the station is reconfigured and the new rear entrance formed there will just be a straight, 50-yard run to the harbour slipway, which will be a huge improvement.”
Building work is expected to begin in January 2022 and take around nine to 12 months to complete
Minehead RNLI chairman Richard Newton said he was hoping for a generous local response to the fundraising appeal.
“We are fortunate in that the Minehead station has always enjoyed terrific support from the local community, who really appreciate the dedication of people who are prepared to put their own lives at risk to save the lives of others,” he said.
“That support has invariably been translated into financial generosity. Through shop sales, donations, fund-raising and collections our local fundraising volunteers and community are extremely generous with their time, skills and funds.
“We were thrilled with the success of our last local appeal in 2019 when we hit our £52,000 target for a new D class lifeboat in just six months.
“Lockdown restrictions have severely curtailed our normal fundraising programme, however the local fundraising team already planning events, and we shall be releasing details when restrictions allow.
“In the meantime we hope supporters in the Minehead and West Somerset community and beyond will rise to the challenge of supporting our selfless volunteers – and the work of saving lives at sea.”
People wishing to support the appeal can donate and / or fundraise in a number of ways. They can visit the Justgiving page at https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/Minehead-RNLI-Lifeboat-Station-Appeal
Or they can make a direct donation to the appeal by contacting the fundraising team at Minehead RNLI who can provide on-line banking details or a postal address for donations. Call Liz Escott on 07877 952975.
People who want to hold a fundraising event or activity can set up their own justgiving page by visiting http://www.justgiving.com and clicking on the “Start Fundraising” button