Royal visitor spends an afternoon in Southwold

The Duke of Kent was in Southwold today to meet RNLI lifeboat crew and supporters.

The Duke, cousin of the Queen, paid a visit to the north Suffolk lifeboat station in his role as president of the RNLI. After being introduced to civic dignitaries, he visited the station's mobile gift shop, spoke with volunteer crew members and met with members of the public who support the life-saving charity.

John Huggins, Southwold lifeboat operations manager, said it was an honour to receive a royal visitor.

'I'm just delighted,' he said.

'As far as I'm aware there's never been a royal visit to this station since it reopened in 1963.'

There has been a lifeboat based at Southwold since 1841. In 1858 the town's boat capsized and three people lost their lives and 1940 the Mary Scott lifeboat was one of 19 RNLI vessels that helped bring British forces back from Dunkirk.

Today there are 18 volunteer crew members and a band of ardent supporters who raise funds to keep the station going.

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Helmsman Cath Fox, who joined in 1999, is currently the only female crew member. She is also deputy head teacher at Halesworth Middle School.

She said: 'It is really nice for the crew to be recognised and we're honoured that we were picked for this. It's an incredibly rewarding role and it certainly makes you feel part of the community.'

Rob Kelvey, one of the newest crew members having joined a year ago, will next month spend a week training at the RNLI lifeboat college in Poole, Dorset.

'A visit like this is good for the station and good for the RNLI.

'He was really pleasant and seemed to know a lot about our role.'

After a private lunch at the Ferry Road station, the Duke spent just short of an hour meeting fund-raisers and local RNLI supporters.

For fund-raisers Ian Dabbs and Geoff Gonella, who were manning the station's mobile gift shop, it was their first brush with royalty.

Mr Gonella said: 'He asked what we sell the most of and I told him it was normally the kids' toys and stationary. He asked if we thought we were going to have a good year and commented on the fact he'd never seen a station with a mobile shop like this one.

'He seemed very knowledgable and interested too.'

Before leaving Southwold to meet RNLI crews and staff at Aldeburgh and Ipswich, the Duke watched as the town's B class lifeboat, Leslie Tranmer, was lowered into the water for a rescue demonstration by crew members.

For John Windell, Southwold mayor, the visit was a chance to highlight the work of the local crew.

'They are all volunteers and they do a fantastic job,' he said.

'It's good for them to get this recognition. Our lifeboat stations will pay an even more important role if the coastguards are cut.'

In Aldeburgh the Duke was greeted by scores of primary school children waving flags. He toured the lifeboat station and met the town's famous fund-raising cockatoo Mr Magoo and his owner Diana Lovell-Pank.

The bird has become a popular sight in Aldeburgh in recent years, sitting on the wall of his home raising money for the RNLI.

The Duke also joined coxswain Steve Saint for a ride in the beach bulldozer which is used by the lifeboat volunteers to clear shingle on the beach.

He finished his tour of Suffolk with a visit to the RNLI divisional base in Ipswich.

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