Tewkesbury’s Severn Area Rescue Association celebrates its 10th anniversary

PUBLISHED: 11:20 08 October 2019 | UPDATED: 11:20 08 October 2019

Party leader briefing a search party

Party leader briefing a search party


This year marks the 10th anniversary of Severn Area Rescue Association in Tewkesbury. Tracy Spiers meets with the extraordinary men and women who give up their time to rescue strangers

A distraught man calls the police, desperate to find his missing daughter. Within an hour, his garden is full of trained rescue volunteers ready to start searching the surrounding countryside. He is overwhelmed by the fact that a group of people, all strangers to him and his family, are willing to come out in the middle of the night to help.

This is a case of ordinary men and women who work in a variety of professions, doing an extraordinary act of kindness time and time again. They are all members of Severn Area Rescue Association (SARA), a registered charity providing a specialist water and land search and rescue service for Gloucestershire, Hereford & Worcestershire, and Gwent.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of SARA's Tewkesbury Rescue Station. Born out of the floods of 2007, it was the first voluntary search and rescue team to have a permanent base within a Fire Station - although funded entirely by public donations.

John Dutton, a senior lecturer at the University of Worcester, is SARA's Exec Land Search Manager and longest serving member of the Tewkesbury Rescue Station. He, along with his team, is on call 24/7, 365.

MRU11 (vehicle) and SARA16 (boat) at TewkesburyMRU11 (vehicle) and SARA16 (boat) at Tewkesbury

After receiving an initial text message from Gloucestershire Constabulary or Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue, John, or one of the other Incident Controllers, weighs-up the incident and the risk factors, and responds accordingly, gathering the team together with speed and authority. The family and friends of all members know the score. If a person is in danger, they are off. This includes on birthdays and holidays, although to date no callout has occurred on Christmas day!

A member team of Mountain Rescue England & Wales (MREW), SARA started in 1973 with a cliff rescue team in the Lower Wye Valley, with a lifeboat service introduced shortly afterwards. In all, the charity has five Lifeboat and Rescue Stations along the length of the River Severn and in Gwent, at Newport, Beachley (Chepstow), Sharpness and Wyre Forest (Kidderminster) as well as at Tewkesbury. A base at South Gloucester Fire Station also operates as a satellite of the Sharpness Lifeboat Station.

Across all stations and disciplines - be it flood rescue, water rescue, land search, cliff rescue or inshore lifeboat - SARA attended over 130 incidents in 2018. A total of 34 land searches were carried out, which amounts to over 1,200 'on search' hours; an average search taking 3 hours 46 minutes and the longest search lasting over 18 hours. A number ran over more than one day and on some occasions, SARA responded to several incidents on the same day.

SARA Tewkesbury works closely with Gloucestershire Constabulary, Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service, and other local agencies. Many call-outs come from families of missing people who have some form of dementia, or are vulnerable, despondent or simply lost. To ensure these searches are carried out effectively, SARA volunteers are highly skilled and carry out weekly training. It takes dedication and commitment.

One of SARA's cliff rescue exercisesOne of SARA's cliff rescue exercises

John and the team at Tewkesbury operate a large area covering north Gloucestershire and south Worcestershire; north of Gloucester along the River Severn to Worcester, up the Avon to Pershore, the Cotswold escarpment including Cleeve and Leckhampton Hills, the Malverns, the five valleys around Stroud, north Forest of Dean, over to Moreton-in-Marsh, as well as providing operational support to their sister stations at Beachley, Sharpness, Wyre Forest and Newport.

"The team is made-up of people of very different occupations, including engineers, builders, receptionists, office workers, doctors, nurses, paramedics, drivers, academics and trainers. There is a broad range of experience from different backgrounds, which is what makes us unusual. We would not necessarily associate with each other work-wise but we all recognise that each of us has a role to play. We have a great team, great camaraderie and I enjoy their company."

It's a true team approach, and operations are carried out to very high standards. As many of their operations are carried out late at night, in storm conditions, or in flood water, it is vital that the standard of training is maintained.

"We always hope that we find someone alive. We carried out a cliff rescue in January and the guy is still alive today because we found him and rescued him. He was very grateful and we are meeting him next week. But there are other times when we are searching for someone who may be deceased. Yet even if this is the case it can help the family bring closure, and I would rather that we found someone than a child or a dog walker," says John, who has been involved in volunteer rescue work for over 20 years.

Dave and John in SARA rescueDave and John in SARA rescue

"I often think that if my daughters were lost and in distress, I would want someone like me and the team to help find them. I remember when they were really small, coming in late at night after a callout and poking my head around their bedroom doors and seeing them sleeping and whispering a thank you."

It is not just humans SARA volunteers rescue. On some occasions, it is a trapped lamb or cow they've been called out to.

"This work is preventative. We know what we are doing when we are pulling a cow out of mud. We do it in order to stop another person trying to help and ultimately getting into danger," adds John.

But to keep this amazing service in action, it costs money - £150,000 a year - to cover the maintenance of boats, vehicles, radios and equipment; fuel alone costs thousands of pounds a year. Capital expenditure for replacing lifeboats, vehicles and equipment are an additional expense. SARA is always happy to receive donations and is keen to speak to companies about corporate fundraising and sponsorship.

SARA is also always looking for new volunteers, to be involved in operations, fundraising or other work behind the scenes.

For more information about making donations for SARA or becoming a volunteer, visit sara-rescue.org.uk or email info@sara-rescue.org.uk.

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