Take a look inside the historic South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade Watch House as it opens to the public

The Grade II-listed Watch House on South Shields pier will be open to the public this weekend.

Friday, 23rd July 2021, 3:19 pm
Updated Friday, 23rd July 2021, 4:20 pm

South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade is opening its Watch House to the public for the first time since September to give visitors the chance to see inside the historic building.

The Watch House, which serves as the Brigade’s headquarters, will be open to visitors from 10am until 4pm on Saturday, July 24 and Sunday, July 25.

Tom Fennelly, Honorary Secretary of the Brigade, said: “We are absolutely delighted to be able to welcome visitors back to the Watch House and to officially mark receiving The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.

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South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade is opening its Watch House to the public this weekend.

“Operating throughout the pandemic has been particularly challenging, having to carry out full search and rescue work while observing full Covid-19 safety procedures.

“All normal fundraising activities have had to be suspended and visits to the Watch House have previously been cancelled.”

One of the oldest wooden Victorian buildings in Britain, work on the Watch House started in 1866 and a watch tower and other additions followed up to 1878.

During the open weekend visitors will be able to see displays of equipment and other memorabilia from shipwrecks, as well as a vast collection of photographs which depict the history of the Brigade.

The Watch House is the headquarters of South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade.

There will also be demonstrations and displays of equipment, weather permitting.

Covid-19 safety procedures will be operating during the open weekend and face masks must be worn inside.

South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade is called out around 120 times a year and so far this year the team has responded to 70 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 to any emergency.

(Left to right) Members of South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade (SSVLB) Captain Dave Ratcliffe, honorary secretary Tom Fennelly and team members Steve Godwin and Brandon Evitt.

Tom added: “The building still continues to serve as the headquarters of South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade and stands as a testament to its remarkable record of 155 years of continuous life saving.”

All its members are unpaid volunteers and the Brigade has to raise funds to maintain all its equipment and buildings.

The open day is free for visitors but donations are welcome.

In June the Brigade received the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service which recognises outstanding work by volunteer groups to benefit their local communities.

Mayor of South Tyneside, Councillor Pat Hay, who was joined by the Mayoress, Mrs Jean Copp, paid a visit to the Watch House on Friday.

She said: “We were delighted to join South Shields Volunteer Life Bridge and Colonel Ann Clouston, Deputy Lieutenant of Tyne and Wear, to mark the reopening of the Brigade’s Watch Tower.

“It is a wonderful historic building with interesting displays which give a fascinating insight into how the Brigade has continued to provide a valuable life-saving service off our coastline for more than 150 years.

“It was also lovely to see the flag flying in celebration of the volunteers receiving the prestigious Queen’s Award for Voluntary service – a very well-deserved accolade recognising outstanding contribution to the community, particularly after an extremely challenging period.”

Anyone interested becoming a Brigade volunteer should email: [email protected]


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