South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade celebrate freedom of the borough

South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade re-enactment.
South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade re-enactment.
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Volunteers at a life-saving charity are celebrating after being awarded a prestigious civic honour.

South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade have been awarded the Freedom of the Borough by South Tyneside Council.

Members of the South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade in 1923.

Members of the South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade in 1923.

The accolade comes, a year after the charity celebrated its 150th anniversary.

Now, preparations are underway for a formal ceremony to take place where the honour will be officially handed over.

Honorary Secretary Tom Fennelly, said: “This award is for the whole of the brigade and for every member past and present.

“This is a great testament to the dedication of our individuals over the years. The fact we have been recognised by being this civic award, is a great honour.

This is a very significant moment of the history of the brigade.

Tom Fennelly

“It was a great honour to have been at the extraordinary meeting where it was an unanimous vote and we also received some excellent comments from the members. This is a very significant moment in the history of the brigade.”

The birth of the voluntary group followed the shipwreck of the Aberdeen steamer Stanley in November 1864.

People were forced to watch on helplessly as 25 passengers and crew lost their lives when a storm drove the ship onto treacherous Black Middens in the Tyne Harbour.

The disaster highlighted the need for a shore-based rescue organisation to work alongside the Coastguard.

Members of the South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade in 1966.

Members of the South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade in 1966.

The idea, to create such a group, was first proposed during a meeting on December 16, 1865 which saw a petition handed to then Mayor of South Shields Thomas Moffett.

It called for a public meeting to form a volunteer life brigade in South Shields.

The meeting was held on January 15, 1866 and led to the organisation being set up.

The Volunteer Life Brigade went on to become the first to save life from a shipwreck using the breeches buoy rope and rocket system with some of the equipment and procedures used and developed in South Shields becoming part of the inventory of every brigade in Britain.

South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade honourary secretary Tom Fennelly

South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade honourary secretary Tom Fennelly

Over it’s 150 year history, volunteers have helped save the lives of hundreds of people and been involved in countless rescue operations. The brigade is based at the Watch House on the South Pier. Training sessions take place on Mondays.

Anyone interested in volunteering with the South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade is asked to visit the group’s page on Facebook.

The South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade carrying out a drill in the 1900s.

The South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade carrying out a drill in the 1900s.