Queen's Award finally presented to South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade (SSVLB) after being delayed by covid
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South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade (SSVLB) was named alongside fellow South Tyneside groups Friends of Hebburn Cemetery and NECA Community Garden as recipients of the Queen's Award for Voluntary Service in June, part of honours conveyed to mark Her Majesty’s official birthday.
And with covid restrictions eased, the delayed award presentation took place at the VLB’s Watch House on the pier, where Lord Lieutenant for Tyne and Wear Susan Winfield OBE handed over the honour.
Tom Fennelly, honorary secretary of the brigade and one of its longest serving members, said: “We are delighted to have been awarded this great honour.
"It is a wonderful tribute to hard work and commitment of all our volunteers, including the operational team members, officers and their families as well as the Friends of SSVLB, benefactors and supporters.
“Operating throughout the pandemic has been particularly challenging, having to carry our full search and rescue work while observing full Covid-19 safety procedures. Training has been mostly outdoors.
"All normal fundraising activities were suspended and visits Watch House were cancelled.”
Prior to the presentation of the Queen’s Award, Mr Fennelly was also presented with a third bar to his long service medal, marking 50 years with the brigade, by Greg Albrighton, area commander for HM Coastguard North East.
The brigade has been providing a coastal search and rescue unit along South Tyneside's cliffs, beaches and riverside for in an unbroken record of continuous service for more than 155 years.
Since its inception, it has always worked under the auspices of HM Coastguard. The brigade was the first such organisation in the world to use the breeches buoy to save life from shipwreck.
Today the volunteers work closely with HM Coastguard, RNLI, police and other emergency services.
On average the brigade is called out about 120 times a year. So far, the team has responded to 115 emergency callouts in 2021, including a number of fatalities.
The motto of the South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade is ‘Always Read’ and the brigade maintains an operational team on 24-hour standby to respond any emergency.
All its members are unpaid volunteers and the Brigade has to raise funds to maintain all its equipment and buildings. The Brigade celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2016 and the following year received the Freedom of the Borough of South Tyneside.
The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service aims to recognise outstanding work by volunteer groups to benefit their local communities. It was created in 2002 to celebrate The Queen’s Golden Jubilee. Recipients are announced each year on 2nd June, the anniversary of The Queen’s Coronation.
The Lord Lieutenant presented the award crystal, which includes a special designation made to QAVS awardees that provided impactful support to the community in response to the pandemic last year - either by managing a significant increase in their usual work or providing extra support in other ways. Members will also receive a Queen’s Award badge.
Two representatives of the Brigade will also be invited attend a garden party at Buckingham Palace in May 2022 (depending on restrictions at the time), along with other recipients of this year’s Award.