South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade stalwart completed 500-mile cycle challenge

A stalwart member of a lifesaving team is about to complete a mammoth fundraising challenge.
Tom Fennelly at the Watch HouseTom Fennelly at the Watch House
Tom Fennelly at the Watch House

Tom Fennelly, the longest-serving operational Member in the 154-year history of South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade, is just about to complete a 500-mile sponsored cycling challenge to raise much-needed funds for the organisation.

Tom joined the Brigade in April 1969 and was an operational team member until January this year when he stood down after 50 years and nine months. He has served as the Brigade’s Honorary Secretary for 46 years of that time and will continue in that role.

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On May 1 he embarked on a personal fundraising challenge to cycle 500 Miles in May in aid of Brigade funds.

He had decided to take on the challenge in March to coincide with the presentation of the final clasp to his Long Service Medal to mark the completion of more than 50 years’ service.

But when the coronavirus outbreak began, everything was put on hold.

Cycling an average of over 33 miles for 15 days, 73-year-old Tom today, May 22, reached a total 496 miles covering a circuit following a circuit of cycle routes and paths around South Shields Jarrow, Hebburn, Washington and Sunderland.

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He will finish the challenge tomorrow, May 23, riding the last few miles along the coast to the Watch House arriving on the South Pier at 12 noon.

He said: “I have been amazed at the generosity, support and encouragement from so many people. It has been great fun and I am very grateful to my wife Una for her total support as ever for all things SSVLB and especially for joining me on over 160 miles of the journey.

“Sponsorship money is still coming in and I will not know the final total for a while, but it already looks like could be over £900.”

South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade provides a 24/7 emergency search and rescue service in conjunction with HM Coastguard.

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As a small and local Registered Charity (No1052343) the Brigade is totally dependent for its running costs on its own fundraising activities, collecting boxes and donations from the local community.

In the current health crisis all its usual fundraising activity has come to a complete standstill as planned events have been cancelled, its Watch House has been closed and direct donations have just about dried up.

However, the work of the Brigade goes on during the Covid-19 pandemic and so far, this year its team of highly-trained volunteers have answered 37 callouts to deal with lifesaving emergencies. These have included searches for missing persons, vulnerable people in danger on the clifftops and other incidents which have required its unpaid volunteers to respond at all hours of the day and night.

Last year the volunteers answered 110 calls for help and working with HM Coastguard, Police, Fire, Ambulance and RNLI lifeboats they assisted in rope rescue, water rescue and search incidents in and around the South Tyneside and Sunderland area.

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