This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Severn Area Rescue Association (SARA), the largest independent search and rescue organisation in the UK, and the second largest lifeboat service after the RNLI.
The organisation was formed following a number of incidents on the River Severn since the opening of the original Severn Bridge in 1966 and the closure of the Aust Ferry. The inaugural meeting to form what became SARA was held in 1973, with its then headquarters at Tutshill, near the current Beachley station on the West side of the Severn.
The Sharpness station opened in 1986 following a tragic event on the river: “A family went out onto the sands just off Lydney Dock to go and have a look at a shipwreck. They went out at low tide and really weren’t aware of the incoming fast water,” explained Hugh Inwood, Station Deputy General Manager at SARA’s Sharpness station.
“They were encircled by the incoming tide and then swept away, and it was some while afterwards that they were found. The entire family was lost. The community here in Sharpness were concerned that because of the state of the tide and the river conditions, there was no way on that day the lifeboat at Beachley could actually get upstream to them. So, the suggestion was made that they should establish a lifeboat station here at Sharpness.
“There was a public meeting, and a large group of people came forward and said they would be willing to take part, so the first station was established at Sharpness Dock.”
All of the crews are volunteers – around 35 at Sharpness: “Almost all of our crew work and are prepared to come out any time of the day or night to deal with emergencies as they are happening – and that’s asking a lot of them. It’s not only that, but we also train twice a week, and we also ask them to fundraise as well as carry out administrative tasks. It’s a big effort the crew put in.”
The organisation relies heavily on fundraising to maintain operations: “Most of the time there are no funds from Government, so we have to make do with what we can raise in the local community, business community, pubs, clubs and any organisations that are willing to put money in to fund the running of the lifeboat service,” said Mr Inwood, “Wotton-under-Edge Round Table has just raised money so we can buy a defibrillator to use on the boat.”
Fundraising was hit hard during the pandemic as much of it relies of going into the community and meeting members of the public: “It costs around £60,000 a year to run the Sharpness station and up until a few years ago we were managing about half that, and the rest topped up by centra SARA funds.”
The annual Open Day takes place on August 6th: “It’s an enormous part of our fundraising. Last year and the year before we raised over £8,000 – in percentage terms that’s a significant part of our income. We rely very heavily on the local community coming and supporting us.”
The Open Day at the station (GL13 9UB) runs from 10am – 4pm and features children’s activities, produce stalls, food and drink, music as well as demonstrations and displays by the SARA crew. Adults can even book a lifeboat ride on the Severn for £50 a person or £80 for two people. Email email@example.com to pre-book.
Pictures by Matt Bigwood