THE list of charities to which the people of Leeds have lent their support down the years is seemingly endless.
Yet of all the causes that have won backing from the city, one stands out as being a little more unusual than the others.
Leeds has a long and proud relationship with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution – despite the fact that it lies 70 miles from the nearest coastline.
In the 1890s the city raised 3,000 for the organisation and in the years that followed gala events were held regularly in Roundhay Park, attracting huge crowds and raising essential funds.
The first City of Leeds lifeboat was bought following a 10,000 appeal by the city's branch of the RNLI and was stationed at Redcar on the Yorkshire coast from 1951 to 1964, during which time it helped save 31 lives.
In 2006 Leeds bought its second lifeboat, the 25,000 cost of the City of Leeds II met by a fundraising effort by RNLI branches and guilds in Leeds.
And another chapter in the history of this special relationship will be written tomorrow with an array of events across the city.
Schools, shopping centres and businesses are all doing their bit to help the lifesaving charity send out an SOS on its national day of fundraising, which it is hoped will raise 500,000 nationwide.
RNLI lifeguards will bring the beach to Leeds at The Light on the Headrow courtesy of tons of sand.
Adding to the beach atmosphere within the shopping centre will be a Caribbean steel band, palm trees and even a paddling pool.
At the White Rose Centre, shoppers will race against the clock to get dressed in RNLI lifeboat crew kit in a special Get Your Kit On contest.
There will also be prizes to win in a giant SOS tombola.
Meanwhile, business across the city will also be joining in, with RBS Insurance and Lupton Fawcett solicitors among the firms taking part.
Children at Hawksworth C of E School hope to raise 100 by dressing up in nautical costumes, playing sea shanties and taking part in a range of fun SOS Day activities.
"I have always been a supporter of the RNLI over the years," said Margaret Lord, the teacher organising the day.
"It is one of my favourite charities. Anyone could need a lifeboat crew at some point and I think bravery shown by the volunteer crews is remarkable.”
The BBC’s giant screen in Millennium Square will be showing RNLI footage throughout the day.
And Starbucks coffee shops across Leeds will stage events including an ‘aroma lab’ where customer sample the smells of coffee from around the world and make a donation to the RNLI in return for coffee samples.
Amid all the fun, however, there is a serious message.
The RNLI receives no Government funding and relies on public donations to keep going.
Catherine Kaye, RNLI senior fundraising manager for the North, said: “The RNLI relies on the generosity of the public for the funds we need to continue operating and SOS day is a crucial source of income for us.
“Despite living so far from the sea, the people of Leeds have a long history of supporting the RNLI and have even provided us with two lifeboats. I know they will help us make SOS day a great success in the city.
“It should be a fantastic fun event, which will give the public a chance to show their support for the commitment and bravery of our lifeboat crews and lifeguards.”
Figures released this week show that RNLI lifeboats launched 8,052 times during 2007, rescuing 7,715 people.
RNLI lifeguards were equally busy on the country’s beaches, aiding 9,883 people and responding to 8,201 incidents.
Andrew Ashton, RNLI northern divisional inspector, said: ‘We expected rescue figures to be down for 2007 because of the particularly poor summer but clearly the bad weather didn’t put people off heading for the coast and setting out to sea.
“This means that our lifeboat crews have to be constantly prepared to drop everything and head out to help anyone who gets into difficulty at sea, at any time of day or night, summer or winter.
“To be able to do that they have to be fully trained and properly equipped and that is why SOS day is so important.
“The money raised by SOS day this Friday will ensure our lifeboat crews receive the training they need and have the lifeboats and other essential equipment that enable them to carry on saving lives at sea, now and in the future.”
Leeds has done a great deal down the years to help the RNLI – but the city’s continued support is essential if this vital emergency service is to have a bright future.
l It is not too late to get involved in tomorrow’s SOS day. To find out how you can take part log on to www.rnli.org.uk/sos or call 0845 121 4999.