Salute to Young Citizens volunteers

Most youngsters go to the beach for a swim or to sunbath, but certainly not to tackle bomb scares, chemical spills and give the kiss of life. But for one group of youngsters that is their ideal holiday as they help keep the beaches of Norfolk safe and sound for tourists, fishermen and local residents.

Most youngsters go to the beach for a swim or to sunbathe, but certainly not to tackle bomb scares, chemical spills and give the kiss of life.

But for one group of youngsters that is their ideal holiday as they help keep the beaches of Norfolk safe and sound for tourists, fishermen and local residents.

For the last 35 years, the Young Citizens Guild has helped the county's emergency services tackle a wide range of life-threatening and difficult situations, including isolating poisonous canisters of cyanide to pulling stranded birds out of oil-drenched waters.

About 100 young people, aged eight to 18, attend holiday and weekend camps at the guild's Hemsby headquarters, which was set up to help develop members into confident and community-minded citizens by working closely with the police, fire service, coastguard and armed forces.

The Young Citizens Guild charity was originally started in 1957 in London by Harry Day, who then moved his organisation to Norfolk in 1972.

Mr Day, 68 and from North Walsham, has been given an MBE and British Empire Medal for teaching young people how to save lives and grow up to be responsible citizens.

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He said: “I decided to form the guild because I was fed up of seeing all the bad press and television coverage young people, especially the mods and rockers, were getting.

“I just thought all you need to do is give youngsters some form of outlet to express themselves and treat them about respect as well and they would soon develop and grow as people.

One of the guild's big successes over recent years has seen members handing out numbered wrist tags to children so that if they get lost they can be easily identified and reunited with their parents. The tagging scheme has seen the number of reported lost children around Hemsby and Yarmouth's beaches drop by more than 60pc.

Mr Day is also proud that his guild has helped youngsters secure jobs in the emergency services after they enjoyed seeing how police, firemen and coastguards operate.

Metropolitan Police sergeant Jason Prendergast discovered his vocation after joining the guild more than 20 years ago as a teenager.

He said: “Harry helped show me what being a police officer is all about and my whole career and life has been a progression from there, really.”

All guild members have a rank and uniform, and after learning about emergency services' routines, they relax by playing pool watching DVDs or using the camp's trampoline and swimming pool.

Liam Archer-West, 15, from Norwich, has been a member for nine years and now he has his sights firmly set on becoming an ambulance paramedic after he helped resuscitate an unconscious person at a caravan park. He said: “There are not many places where you work so closely with the emergency services. I think it took Harry a lot of courage and dedication to set up the guild. Without him many young people would miss out on such a wonderful opportunity to improve themselves”

The Young Citizens Guild celebrated its 50th anniversary with a special dinner, attended by past and present members, representatives from the emergency services and council dignitaries.

Friday's event also saw the charity launch a fundraising drive to help

the organisation meet its £10,000

a year running costs. Any extra

money raised will be used to

refurbish the campsite's buildings and facilities.

Paying tribute to Mr Day, the chairman of Norfolk County Council, Patrick Hacon, said: “The guild is positive proof that by fostering a true sense of community and social awareness, our younger generation can make a real difference.”

Anyone wanting to help the guild or to join it can call 01493 732150 or log on to wwwyoungcitizensguild.com

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