A few weeks ago I received a faintly mysterious email from Ross at the RNLI.
“Are you free on the evening of Monday 29 February?” he asked.
“Nothing that can’t be changed”, I replied, wondering what it was all about, but he wouldn’t be drawn on what he told me would be a surprise …
Following on from my work with the Respect the Water campaign last year, Ross put me in contact with Megan, who in turn is involved with a new collaborative drowning prevention initiative via the National Water Safety Forum. I was asked if I was willing to share what happened to James as a Case Study within the strategy document that was being prepared by the RNLI and other contributory organisations. I agreed to this and over the months received updates from Megan as to how the initiative was progressing through the consultation process.
A couple of days after I heard from Ross, an email from Megan popped into my inbox. To my great surprise, it contained a rather special invitation. We were invited by Government Minister for Transport, Robert Goodwill MP, to “an Evening Reception to launch the National Strategy for Drowning Prevention on behalf of the National Water Safety Forum” ….and that is how Shaun and I found ourselves in esteemed company at the House of Commons last night.
I couldn’t help but think how James would react – would “Wow, mum!” cover it?
When we arrived in the wonderful historic surroundings of Parliament, we passed through the airport style security and as we were early, we were invited to go into the House of Lords to observe the debate from the public gallery for a short while, a fascinating experience in itself.
At 7pm around 60 people gathered together on the Pavilion Terrace, overlooking the Thames and we were offered drinks and canapes. Megan introduced us to various people and it was great to re-establish contact with some of the RNLI staff whom I have met before as well as meeting representatives from organisations including the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, Amateur Swimming Association, RoSPA, RLSS and the Fire and Rescue Service to name but a few.
The formal part of the launch reception consisted of three speeches. George Rawlinson, Operations Director of the RNLI and Chair of the Forum shared the shocking statistic that 400 people drown in the UK each year and a further 200 take their own lives on our waters. This was given further perspective when we were told that the number is higher than deaths occurring as a result of house fires or cycling accidents. George gave a passionate, inspiring talk and delivered it with real empathy for those who have been affected by water-related issues. He emphasised how valuable is a collaborative approach if the NWSF is to achieve its objective of a future without drowning. The key aim is to halve the number of drownings by 2026 through better prevention, education, targeting specific groups and reducing risks to the community.
.The launch of the strategy is undoubtedly a strong call to action – a call to make contributing to national goals a local priority.
Dr David Meddings, representing the World Health Organisation adopts a humanitarian approach to the problem and his vision is to see an NWSF plan being adopted in every country, aiming to reduce the global problem.
Finally we heard from Minister Robert Goodwill, the Minister for Transport and MP for Scarborough and Whitby. He emphasised that the NWSF has the support and financial backing of the government and he applauded the efforts of the entire organisation both individually and collectively in the work that they are doing. He told the audience that through his ministerial role, he has been able to award almost £1 million of government funds to 51 UK charities to support water rescue services in local communities.
The government scheme gives voluntary groups crucial funding for new equipment and training to support their rescue efforts on and around inland and inshore waterways.
The formalities over, there was more time to chat and meet the individuals involved. The most surreal moment for me was when I was asked by George Rawlinson whether I would like a photograph with the Minister! This ranks as something I could never imagine happening! And Shaun’s surreal moment was perhaps talking about rescues with Mr Keith Oliver OBE, Chief Coastguard of the MCA. We were indeed in eminent company.
On a more serious note, I feel blessed to have come within the radar of the RNLI, and to be given repeated opportunities to share the positive and far-reaching outcomes that have resulted from the dreadful catalyst of losing James. The impact of the constructive changes that have been made at Kingston riverside continues to echo ever wider which is something I did not anticipate at the time we completed our campaign.
I am honoured and privileged to be able to communicate with a far broader audience than would ever have been possible for me as an individual.
The RNLI and all the other organisations involved in this strategy represent an instrument for change through collaborative strength, drive, commitment and power. I applaud them all the way.
The aim of the National Water Safety Forum Strategy is:
To reduce accidental drowning fatalities in the UK by 50% by 2026, and reduce risk amongst the highest risk populations, groups and communities.
The initial targets over the next 36 months are:
- Every child should have the opportunity to learn to swim and receive water safety education at primary school and where required at Key Stage 3
- Every community with water risks should have a community-level risk assessment and water safety plan
- To better understand water-related self-harm
- Increase awareness of everyday risks in, on and around the water
- All recreational activity organisations should have a clear strategic risk assessment and plans that address key risks
More information can be found here:
The NWSF strategy page and document can be viewed here: http://www.nationalwatersafety.org.uk/strategy/
Download The UK Drowning Prevention Strategy 2016-2026. (The Case Study relating to James is on page 14)