Campaigners hope to bring a historic lifeboat back to her home port in time to display her at the Great Yarmouth Maritime Festival in September.

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An appeal to raise £25,000 to buy the Louise Stephens was launched at a public meeting at the Pier Hotel in Gorleston yesterday.

About 20 local people braved snow and ice to attend the meeting and welcomed the attempt to bring home some of the town’s lost heritage.

The Louise Stephens saved 177 lives during her service at Gorleston from 1939 to 1967 and attained added historical significance by joining the flotilla of little ships which rescued British troops from the beaches of Dunkirk in May 1940.

The appeal has been launched by maritime enthusiast Peter Johnson, of Old Lane, Corton, who is one of two surviving crew members from the lifeboat.

The vessel, which has been modified over time for use as a fishing boat and for pleasure trips, was originally destined to go on display at Hoylake Lifeboat Museum on Merseyside, but her owner John Parr has now decided to sell her and she is currently at a boatyard on the Hebridean island of Islay.

Mr Johnson, 68, told the meeting that the Louise Stephens Preservation Group was being set up as a registered charitable company.

He hoped fund-raising would proceed quickly enough for her to be brought down from Scotland by May; the plan was then to store the boat at a friend’s workshop in Lowestoft while a restoration scheme was worked out.

The initial fund-raising target would cover the cost of purchase and transport from Scotland.

Mr Johnson said he was in discussions with the principal of the International Boatbuilding College in Lowestoft and he hoped the restoration could be undertaken as a project by students.

He said: “I don’t want to see her stuck inside a museum. They look so sad like that.

“She has a purpose in life in that she is going to be educational, taking cadets, scouts and school parties on trips and teaching them about lifesaving and the history of Dunkirk.”

One possible plan would be to moor her next to the historic steam drifter Lydia Eva on Yarmouth’s Hall Quay.

He said: “If we bring her back by May it might be possible to display her at the Maritime Festival. By then we could have got rid of the present wheelhouse and faked up a plywood canopy and she would look much like she did in her days as a lifeboat.”

In an appeal to the meeting he said: “We need people supporting us as well as financial support. We need a team to make this thing work.”

Tony Mallion, 62, whose father and grandfather were both crew members, said: “I can’t see any problem if there is enough vision for this. From this first meeting it can gather more and more momentum.”

Rosemary Scott, a founder member of Gorleston on Sea Heritage Group, told the meeting her home town had lost too much of its heritage.

She said: “We are concerned she should come back to her local area where many families are part of the tradition of boatbuilding. Heritage is not just old buildings and old paintings.”

To volunteer a donation or time, contact Mr Johnson on 01502-730550 or email ispg2012@hotmail.co.uk

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