RNLI takes on lifeguards' duties

The thousands of people who use north Norfolk's beaches every year will be safer this summer thanks to a new lifeguard service.North Norfolk District Council has operated a lifeguard service on the district's main beaches for several years, but this year the council has teamed up with the RNLI in a ground-breaking scheme, the first of its kind outside of the south west of England.

The thousands of people who use north Norfolk's beaches every year will be safer this summer thanks to a new lifeguard service.

North Norfolk District Council has operated a lifeguard service on the district's main beaches for several years, but this year the council has teamed up with the RNLI in a ground-breaking scheme, the first of its kind outside of the south west of England.

The involvement of the RNLI brings new skills, better equipment and a more joined-up way of working with other agencies, including the same organisation's lifeboats, to the vital beach based role.

And it is considered something of a coup for north Norfolk to become the first area away from the thronging beaches of the south west to take the service.

Darren Lewis, RNLI lifeguard manager for north Norfolk, has moved up from Dorset where he worked with lifeguard teams for a number of years.

“The basics are the same. A lot of the same lifeguards are being employed this year as last,” said Mr Lewis as he oversaw some of the lifeguard team at Sea Palling beach at the weekend.

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“But there are lots of elements which we can improve on, some better equipment, a more robust training system, additional investment and an upgraded first aid qualification.”

Mr Lewis explained the thinking behind the geographical expansion of the service.

“We have run six seasons down in Dorset, Devon and Cornwall and we have been interested in going nationwide.

“The RNLI trustees gave the nod, we formulated a plan and north Norfolk shouted the loudest and stuck their hand the highest, so they are first.”

A good existing infrastructure meant it had been possible to get the partnership with the council off the ground quickly, said Mr Lewis.

Karl Read, the council's leisure services manager, said the new service would be more comprehensive.

“The support of the RNLI and the infrastructure they have behind them is invaluable,” said Mr Read.

“It is a real coup that this has been set up here and so quickly. We envisaged this starting in 2008 when we made first contact with the RNLI last year.

“But we were all able to seize the opportunity and get it off the ground for this season thanks to the set up we already had in place.”

Lifeguard supervisor Guy Metcalf, who has been down to RNLI headquarters in Poole for training several times in recent months, said the new system was a great boon to the team on the ground and was “nothing but good news”.

Martyn Smith, the RNLI's divisional inspector for the east of England, was also at Sea Palling yesterday and said: “The majority of our work is the other side of the surf line, this move links it all up. It is a totally natural progression.

“I would like to see it blossom elsewhere in the region, but we can't go too fast with it.”

The service started on Saturday on four beaches at east Cromer, Mundesley, Sheringham and Sea Palling. A fifth beach will come into operation at west Cromer on July 7. The service will run every day from 10am to 6pm.

t The RNLI is looking for volunteers to assist with the service at weekends. Call Mr Lewis on 07976 879713.

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