30 June 2017

5 volunteers who left home and found a new life with the RNLI

Whether they’re facing the toughest conditions to rescue someone in trouble at sea; working tireless hours to plan a fundraising event; or giving up their spare time to run our shops and branches, RNLI volunteers show tremendous bravery and dedication to saving lives at sea.

These personal qualities shine through in all aspects of our volunteers' lives. Here we introduce you to five of them who had the courage to leave the familiarity of home in search of a life somewhere new - and how they found the RNLI on the way.

Yvonne Fairholm

Crew Member, North Berwick Lifeboat Station

Yvonne holding her baby daughter last year
Yvonne holding her baby daughter last year

‘Things got easier when I joined the lifeboats’

While I was training to be a nurse in my hometown of West Linton, I met my other half Liam. After a while, we decided we wanted to move in together - he had a job in North Berwick and I was unemployed at the time so I took a leap of faith to be with him there.

West Linton is a small inland town and I was moving to a place on the coast - I hadn’t even been on a boat before! Not having friends, that unit of support around you, was difficult. Things got easier when I joined the lifeboats - I didn’t have to rely on Liam and just hang out with his friends.

‘Getting involved in the community is what’s going to make a new place a home’
Yvonne Fairholm
Crew Member, North Berwick RNLI

Because I had a medical background I wanted to use it to do something good for North Berwick - so I turned up at the lifeboat station one day and asked to volunteer on the crew. I’ve never looked back!

My granddad was a big supporter of the RNLI and I think part of my joining was for him too. He’s sadly no longer with us, but I know he’d be pleased I signed up.

The best thing about being on the crew is the sense of belonging - being part of a close-knit group and building new friendships. I’ve lived in North Berwick for 3½ years now, so volunteering has really helped me. It’s also given me a new hobby - being out on the boats is amazing!

I think being involved with the RNLI gave me something else to offer professionally too. When I qualified as a nurse and I didn’t have a job, I think it really helped me get employed - I work in Edinburgh as a nurse now.

Whether it’s by pursuing a hobby or by volunteering in something new, putting yourself out there and getting involved in the community is what’s going to make a new place a home.

Ian Harms

Coxswain/Mechanic, Lerwick Lifeboat Station

Photo: Jack Lowe, The Lifeboat Station Project

‘I visited Lerwick for 2 weeks … I knew I was going to take the job’

I’ve previously worked at two other RNLI lifeboat stations - Anstruther and Humber - where I was in a full-time post. About 16 months ago, I applied for the position of coxswain/mechanic at Lerwick Lifeboat Station and I was offered the job on Christmas Eve 2015.

I’d passed Lerwick once before when I was on passage with Girvan lifeboat crew. I’d met the old coxswain and a few of the crew members, so I knew of them but I didn’t know them very well. That was probably my biggest challenge, getting to know them - after all, I just came out of nowhere!

‘Moving to Shetland has definitely made me a more confident person’
Ian Harms
Coxswain/Mechanic, Lerwick RNLI

I visited Lerwick for 2 weeks to see how I’d get on with everyone at the station and in that time I knew I was going to take the job. So I moved up, just me and my wife and our two dogs.

I initially got involved with the RNLI in 2001 when I joined Anstruther Lifeboat Station. I walked past the coxswain one day and asked him: ‘Do you know where I can get a cup of coffee around here?’ He replied: ‘There are free cups of coffee here - all you have to do is volunteer to be on the crew!’ And that was it, I was sold.

Moving to Shetland has definitely made me a more confident person. You don’t really notice how isolated you are here until you drive about a mile out of town. You can drive from the east side to the west in just 15 minutes - but I don’t mind, I like this kind of life.

For anyone moving to a new place, get involved in the community - for me it was always about the lifeboats and it helped me meet people. If you want to make something of yourself somewhere new, you have to get involved.

Gail Marten Swanton

Secretary, Kinsale RNLI Fundraising Branch

‘I came to Cork for the summer and never went back!’

Before I left my home in Belfast, I worked in childcare. In 2000, I decided I fancied a change of scenery and job - and a good friend of mine owned a sail-making company near Cork. I came down for the summer to help out and never went back!

I moved over on my own. My father was brought up in Cork and I always liked to go there when we were little - but the hardest thing for me about moving there as a young, single person was meeting new people.

‘I made friends through sailing and work but the lifeboats gave me another network’
Gail Marten Swanton
Secretary, Kinsale RNLI Fundraising Branch

I was able to bring some of my home comforts from Belfast to my new home through sailing - I’ve been doing it since before I was walking. I was lucky with my job because I could go out on the water and make new friends - that’s how I eventually met my husband.

Because of my sailing, it was natural to be involved with the RNLI - growing up, I was part of the RNLI’s Junior Committee. We’d help the adults and come up with events we wanted to organise like raft races, sponsored walks and discos at the boathouses.

When my husband and I were deciding whereabouts to settle in Ireland, we knew it would be Kinsale as we wanted to be by the sea - and I knew I wanted to re-join the lifeboats again.

Volunteering at Kinsale’s Fundraising Branch gave me a different group of people to meet - I had made friends through sailing and through work but the lifeboats gave me another network. I’m still there today as the branch secretary.

If I could give some advice as to how to make a new place a home it would be to go and join things in the community. The RNLI is very present around Kinsale as it’s a big fishing town and sailing is a big part of it. You need to get out there and get involved in as many things as you can.

Joy and Oz Worsely

Fundraising Volunteer (Joy) and Crew Member (Oz), New Brighton Lifeboat Station

‘The hardest thing for Oz was getting used to the great British weather!’

Ten years ago, I was a working as a magician’s assistant on a cruise ship. That’s where I met my husband, Oz - he was a gym instructor onboard. He’s from Perth in Australia and, other than a few people from the ship, he didn’t know anyone from the UK. But he crossed the pond to be with me.

We lived in Manchester for a little while, but after we got married Oz desperately missed living by the sea; I did too - we’re such water people. So we moved to New Brighton, which has been home since I was 16.

The hardest thing for Oz about getting used to a new place was the great British weather! But he constantly lives in shorts and flip flops - even in winter - I think that helps him feel at home. There’s at least one pair of flip flops in every room in our house!

‘Volunteering gives me a chance to meet other mums and lifeboat women too’
Joy Worsely
Fundraising Volunteer, New Brighton RNLI

Back in Perth, Oz was part of the Community Fire Service - he’s always liked to give something back and be part of the community. We live a nice life here and we knew we’d continue to give something back once we’d settled.

He considered joining the Navy as a reserve and looked at volunteering opportunities elsewhere too - but as we walked past the lifeboat station almost every day, I suggested: ‘What about the lifeboats?’ He thought it was a really good idea.

The crew at New Brighton are great and everyone is there for the right reason. Oz has been a lifeboat crew member for a year now and he really enjoys it.

Six months ago we had a baby - we’d love for our son to be involved with the RNLI one day. It’s really important to us to teach him the importance of giving back to the community.

I’m able to help out at the lifeboat station too - because I work in events, I was able to make last year’s Christmas do a big success. The magician I knew from the cruise ship came along for the entertainment and my friend sang at the event with her live band - it was a brilliant night.

Volunteering gives me a good chance to meet the other mums in the area and the other lifeboat women too. We’re very lucky.


How could volunteering help you?

Whether you’re looking to make new friends, pursue a new pastime, or just want to give a little back, volunteering with the RNLI is a great way to get involved with your community - whether you’re living somewhere new or familiar.

From sparing a few hours to volunteering at your local lifeboat station, there are many ways you can make a difference and be a part of something amazing, helping to save lives at sea.