The South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade (SSVLB) has been honoured with The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, the highest award a voluntary group can receive in the UK.
The prestigious award was announced today by Buckingham Palace and it was also confirmed that the lifesaving organisation, which has served the local community since it was founded in 1866, will also receive special recognition for its work during the pandemic.
Also honoured in this year’s awards are the Friends of Hebburn Cemetery, for providing “a vibrant hub aimed at supporting the bereaved and providing wider community enjoyment” and NECA Community Garden, South Tyneside, “an oasis in the heart of the community providing a safe and exciting learning environment”.
Tom Fennelly, honorary secretary of the SSVLB and one of its longest serving members, said: “We are absolutely delighted that the work of the Brigade has been recognised with 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 have been suspended and visits Watch House have been cancelled.”
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 over 155 years.
Since its inception has always worked under the auspices of HM Coastguard.
The brigade was the first organisation organisation in the world to use the breeches buoy to save life from shipwreck.
Today the SSVLB works closely with HM Coastguard, RNLI, police and other emergency services.
On average the brigade is called out about 120 times a year.
So far, this year the team has responded to 51 emergency callouts, including a number of fatalities.
The motto of the South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade is "Always Ready" 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.
It celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2016 and the following year received the Freedom of the Borough of South Tyneside.
Representatives of the brigade will receive the award crystal and certificate from Mrs Susan Winfield OBE, Lord-Lieutenant of Tyne & Wear later this summer.
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.
A spokesperson for the office of the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service (QAVS) said: “The response of volunteers to the pandemic last year was truly outstanding and we are so pleased to be able to recognise it as part of the QAVS process.”