MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN 2017 CAMPAIGN: Army of specialist volunteers from Norfolk Lowland Search and Rescue team ready to find county’s missing people
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As part of our support of the Voluntary Norfolk Make a Difference in 2017 campaign, the EDP is shining a light on voluntary groups and individuals. Reporter SOPHIE WYLLIE found out about the crucial work of the Norfolk Lowland Search and Rescue team.
From busy urban spots to rural landscapes including potentially-dangerous water - these are the areas covered by 40 dedicated volunteers who are vital in the search for missing people across Norfolk.
Hethersett-based Norfolk Lowland Search and Rescue (NorLSAR) officially started in 2004 with just 10 volunteers but its origins go back to 1999 after it grew out of the Breckland Landrover Club and Civil Protection Volunteers.
It is now part of the Association of Lowland Search and Rescue and helps the police and other emergency services look for missing people - a large percentage of whom are either suffering with dementia or men with mental health problems.
Volunteers are on call 24/7, vary in age and are specially trained.
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They come from a range of backgrounds but all share a passion for the role.
Eleanor Jones, who is NorLSAR group secretary alongside her job as a self-employed book-keeper and mum-of-four, said: 'I joined 15 years ago because I wanted to do some volunteering. I had two children at the time and a grandad with dementia. If any of them went missing I would want to know someone would look for them.
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'As soon as I joined I was hooked and have not looked back. Before joining I was shy but this has given me confidence in speaking to people. The experiences I have had have definitely changed me in a good way. You have to be a team player.'
Mrs Jones, from Wymondham, added despite being a professional operation and physically-demanding, there was a social side to being part of NorLSAR.
Paul Webber, NorLSAR chairman, who lives in Mattishall, said: 'You learn about trustworthiness and honesty. You also appreciate that patience is a virtue.'
Hard work and variety
The marine insurance expert added that being part of the specialist search team involved hard work, constant training and variety because of the range of landscapes the volunteers have to look around, including the Broads.
'No two searches are the same,' Mr Webber said. 'There are so many different factors involved. That is what makes volunteering with NorLSAR so interesting.'
The service has been run from the Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service Wymondham base for the past four years and costs £12,000 a year.
It relies on public donations, fundraising and government grants.
Volunteers need to train for four-six months to be able to go out on search operations and anyone aged 18 and over can join, as long they can walk five miles in two hours.
'You have got to have some love of the outdoors and have to be fairly physically fit as you could be searching for up to four hours at a time,' Mrs Jones said.
Skills taught to volunteers include first-aid, map reading and water rescues.
NorLSAR equipment includes two boats, one of which was brought out in January for potential Great Yarmouth floods.
Another valuable resource for the team are five dogs, currently in a 12-18 month training programme.
They will be used to pick up human scent and will undergo 600 hours of training.
Mr Webber said: 'They will be a real asset because they can cover a lot more ground than people.'
The chairman, who joined the service 13 years ago and has taken part in 150 operations, added the most important piece of equipment used by volunteers is a stick or something similar.
These objects are used to survey the ground for evidence.
Volunteers look for, and find, missing people who are alive but they are also involved in searches where people have taken their own lives.
Mrs Jones said: 'We do the job for the satisfaction of returning a person to their family.'
Visit www.norlsar.org.ukVoluntary Norfolk Make A Difference in 2017 campaign, supported by the EDP, is encouraging people to take up volunteering.
To find out more about Voluntary Norfolk opportunities, visit www.voluntarynorfolk.org.ukAre you a involved in a voluntary group? Email reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
Corrie McKeague search
Volunteers from Norfolk Lowland Search and Rescue (NorLSAR) are involved in the high-profile search for missing RAF serviceman Corrie McKeague.
The 23-year-old vanished after a night out with friends in Bury St Edmunds last year.
Six members of NorLSAR have supported Suffolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire lowland search and rescue teams, along with teams of public volunteers, on two occasions.
More: 140 people join public search for missing RAF serviceman Corrie McKeague The last time the young RAF Honington medic was seen was at 3.24am on September 24 in Bury St Edmunds.
He passed a CCTV camera opposite The Grapes pub on the corner of Brentgovel Street and St Andrew's Street at about 1.20am on September 24.
Mr McKeague was last seen turning right into a nearby loading bay area known as the Horseshoe at 3.25am that morning.
NorLSAR volunteers, along with others, have searched areas including King's Forest between Thetford and Bury St Edmunds as well as around Mildenhall and Barton Mills.
How to become a volunteer
Members of the Norfolk Lowland Search and Rescue (NorLSAR) team work throughout Norfolk and beyond.
In 2016, they were involved in 28 search operations for missing people.
Out of those 28, 16 were on land in Norfolk, three were on the water also within the county.
During that same period, NorLSAR volunteers were called to help the Suffolk Lowland Search and Rescue team seven times and Cambridgeshire Search and Rescue team twice.
A large boat, which was paid for with a £40,000 Department for Transport grant, is kept in Wroxham
The NorLSAR crew also has a smaller boat which was deployed to Great Yarmouth in January 2017 when there were fears of flooding.
NorLSAR volunteers train on the second Wednesday of each month at its Hethersett base.
Its next volunteer recruitment day is on Saturday, May 13, at Hethersett fire station from 10am.
Call 07920118873 or email email@example.com for details.