Barbara Burfoot was the speaker at the evening meeting of the Probus Club of Basingstoke. She is one of the nominated speakers of the R.N.L.I. or to give it its full name, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. The subject of her talk was its history, development and favourable image within the nation’s psyche to the group of retired professional and business managers held at Christ Church in Chineham.
She has a wealth of experiences having worked as a volunteer within the R.N.L.I. for many years, which continued after the passing of her husband who was the chairman of the Alton branch. Barbara Burfoot became the branch secretary many years ago and is also involved with the promotion of fund raising products for public purchase. Money is clearly a major concern for this Institution as it is run entirely on voluntary contributions, not only from the charity collecting boxes in the shape of a lifeboat, but increasing so from bequests in wills.
The crews of all the lifeboats have traditionally been volunteers but with a changing face of water borne rescues in the River Thames in the London area, where they have four lifeboat stations, it was realised that a different approach was necessary for the three man crews. This was due to the difficulty of getting three volunteers quickly on station with the traffic problems in the capital. They resolved this by employing one or two salaried persons to be permanently on station supported by volunteers, some of whom are resting actors, who can be on station for the whole of a shift. The traditional boom of the maroon signal of an emergency call for the volunteer crews has, these days, been replaced with modern technology of pagers and mobile phones.
The latest expansion of the Institution’s activities is that of flood rescue; something that in recent times has made headline news on many occasions and where several lives have been saved by the crews working in partnership with all the usual emergency services.
The Thames rescue boats are some of the smallest in the range of vessels operated by the R.N.L.I. and are water jet propelled as the use of propellers was considered to be too dangerous when pulling survivors on board. The extensive range of life boats in the fleet has the largest sea going versions costing several million pounds down to the inshore semi – inflatables, with powerful outboard engines, costing tens of thousands. The Institution has recently decided to take up the building of some of the medium sized boat designs after their supplier of hulls went out of business. A factory is being built close by their headquarters in Poole for this project and apprentices are being recruited.
The Poole headquarters has one of the largest water tanks in the world which is used not only for the training of rescue crews with variable conditions making for a completely realistic situation but is also used for film and T.V. location work. The centre is open for visitors including offering overnight accommodation.
The Probus Club of Basingstoke is now in its 34th year and potential members can see more about its activities on their web site http://www.probusbasingstoke.wordpress.com or they can ring their secretary Bryan Harvey on 01256 321473.