Red Hall Ladies’ Guild raises £250,000 for RNLI

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They may be about as far away from the sea as you can get in this country but the Red Hall Ladies’ Guild has raised £250,000 for the RNLI. Neil Hudson spoke to some of group’s members

It began as a light-hearted charity evening back in 1967, raising the sum total of £11 but over the years the Red Hall and Whinmore Ladies’ Guild, which has a sum total of just seven full time members, has notched up more than £250,000 for the Royal National Lifeboat Institute.

Now the group is celebrating after its current secretary, Mary Roe, was awarded the British Empire Medal.

It marks a highpoint for the ladies’ group, which has worked tirelessly over the years to raise funds despite being, as its members freely acknowledge, about as far away from the sea as you can get in this country.

Mary, 77, who was one of the founder members of the group back in 1967, said she was proud of what they had achieved and that they were, after almost half a century of fund-raising, ‘winding down’. It’s a modest claim for a group of volunteers who last year still managed to bring in over £10,000.

Since their inauguration, the group has raised over £250,000 for the RNLI.

The mother of three, who also has three grandchildren with another one on the way, described herself as ‘busy’ but took time out of her pre-Christmas preparations to speak to the Yorkshire Evening Post.

She said: “Back in 1967 we were all young mothers and we used to meet up at the local vicar’s house and it was his wife who had different people over to give talks.

“One week, she had someone come over from the RNLI and well, that was it. Before we knew it, we had organised a sherry evening. That was our first event and I think we raised something like £11, which was a lot of money back then.”

Over the years their fundraising has taken them across the county, regularly attending events in Otley, Yeadon, Harewood and visiting lifeboats on the coast.

“We have been to see the lifeboats on a few occasions,” recalled Mary. “These days we just go and look at them but we have been out in them.

“They are amazing machines and can turn on a sixpence. One of the times we went out, they gave us a few surprises - not only did they send us down the ramp crashing into the sea but then when we got out to sea, one of them jumped overboard.

“He was rescued, of course and it was to show us how they do it. He said he was a bit cold when he got back in the boat. Nowadays they wouldn’t be allowed to do it.”

Despite scaling back the number of events they attend, the group still manages to fit in around a dozen events each year including Yeadon Carnival, Roundhay Flower Show and Otley Sailing Club, which puts on a special show for them.

“We’ve done some things over the years. I can remember walking through the centre of Leeds with a nude mannequin, which we were using as part of our collection up near the St John Centre and that drew a few funny looks and comments. It also got us a lot of money from memory.”

She added: “I’m incredibly proud of what we have all achieved. We’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”

Their efforts have not gone unnoticed by the RNLI either, with Mary, the group’s elected ‘postergirl’, being awarded bronze, silver and gold medals by the charity before she was awarded their highest accolade last year by being made a lifetime governor.

Last year, she was also awarded the BEM and travelled to Bowcliffe Hall, Wetherby, to be invested with it by the Lord Lieutenant of West Yorkshrie.

As if that wasn’t enough, she’s also been to the Buckingham Palace garden party twice, the second time accompanied by husband, Sydney, 88.

Marina Bryant, 80, said: “Mary is our poster girl but what she gets reflects on the committee. She never says no, she’s always bright and breezy and she’s always willing to help.

“Over the years we’ve held dinners, dances, cake sales. Now we stage garden parties in Harewood, we attend Roundhay Flower Show and places like the Arndale Centre, Cross Gates and Tesco at Seacroft. Some events raise £100, others more.”

Janet Robinson, treasurer, said: “I have been involved 43 years and the group is 47 years old. I remember how I became involved - I had very young children at the time and I went to one of the local halls for a coffee morning.

“Various people asked me to join different groups - I’d just moved here, that was in the spring of 1971… I remember walking past their stall and just asking if they wanted a hand with the washing up and they said yes. That was it. I was hooked.

“There were three of us with babies and they just had to go round with us.

“When we were younger, none of us worked, so we had time to spare - nowadays, everyone works, so I can see how it’s a difficult commitment for people.

“Now it’s part of my life, we all love being part of it, although we are slowing down a bit now, we don’t search for events any more.

“I feel as though we have done our bit and I am proud of what we’ve done.”

The group consists of Marina Bryant, 80, chair, Janet Robinson, 78, treasurer, Mary Roe, 78, Ida Welsh, 80 and Nora Mayes, who is in her 60s, together with Sandra Ramsden and Linda Squires, who are the daughters of Vera Squires (CHECK NAME), a stalwart member who died in 1988.

The RNLI was founded by Sir William Hillary in a London Tavern on March 4, 1824. His vision was to create a service dedicated to saving lives at sea. Going back even earlier, a London coachbuilder, Lionel Lukin, paved the way for the first purpose-built lifeboat when he designed the world’s first unsinkable boat and patented it on November 2, 1785.

Grace Darling was one of the Victorian era’s most celebrated heroines. On 7 September 1838, she risked her life to rescue the stranded survivors of the wrecked steamship Forfarshire, a feat of bravery which changed her life dramatically.

Her extraordinary act of bravery became internationally known, making front page news and even reaching Queen Victoria. Both Grace and her father were awarded medals for their bravery.

On February 9, 1861, a great storm wrecked more than 200 ships on the east coast. The Whitby lifeboat crew launched five times to rescue stricken vessels, but on their sixth launch, tragedy struck.

​A freak wave hit the lifeboat, which capsized and all but one of the crew were lost. The sole survivor of this tragedy was Henry Freeman, who survived because he was wearing a new design of cork lifejacket.

Henry was awarded an RNLI Silver Medal for the courage and determination he displayed that day, and later become the Whitby RNLI Coxswain for more than 20 years, helping to save over 300 lives in that time.