This year’s RNLI Respect the Water campaign runs from May to September, and many will have seen media coverage by Ross Macleod, Coastal Safety Manager, and the ever increasing team who contribute and pull together to produce an innovative and effective campaign across the UK and Ireland.
Back in 2006 when we were involved with Kingston Council developing safety measures at the riverside where James lost his life, a friend sent to me the ‘Starfish Story’ (replicated at the end of this post). The message in this simple story tells how individuals can make a difference for the future, in ways they may never have envisaged. The story seemed particularly apposite to what we were proposing, and achieved, in Kingston. From the end of our campaign in 2009 to date, it is impossible to measure the effects of the increased safety of the area, but there is no doubt that, like the man throwing the starfish into the ocean, we made a difference.
Somehow, the starfish story has become synonymous with my involvement with the RNLI, which began in 2014 when my book Into the Mourning Light was published. In Chapter 10 of the book I reproduce the starfish story in correlation with our campaign and the work with Kingston. The next time the story cropped up was when The RNLI filmed me for a video as part of the awards ceremony for Respect the Water in 2015.
A few months ago I was approached by the RNLI in relation to this year’s collaborative initiative along the Thames. Pub chain Nicholson’s has joined forces with the RNLI to promote water safety messages to customers across its entire network of 78 locations, via special promotions of their fish dishes, empowering staff with water safety advice to share with customers, and running additional fundraising and awareness activities.
In addition the RNLI are supplying potentially lifesaving throw bags to pubs at key locations along the River Thames in London. RNLI personnel will then deliver training to staff on how to use them to rescue someone from the water in an emergency. The message is clearly prevention rather than cure.
On a personal level, I was particularly touched to learn that the RNLI had decided to honour James’s memory by dedicating the community throw bag training manual to him.
I was asked to write the dedication, incorporating the starfish story.
On Wednesday 31 May Shaun and I travelled to the Horniman at Hays, the Nicholson’s pub on the south bank near London Bridge which is launching the initiative. It was truly inspiring to be part of this event, and we met other members of the RNLI who have been involved, over a period of years, in the development of the throw bag initiative. I was particularly pleased to meet Tim James, another helmsman from Teddington who is a colleague of Andy Butterfield and John Soones, two passionately committed individuals who each form part of the wonderfully cohesive jigsaw of the community safety arm of the organisation. It was a pleasure too to meet event organisers Bridie and Rachel who, doubtless with other staff in the wings, helped the event to come together. The pub was very busy and many people passing along the walkway in this tourist-rich part of London will doubtless have taken away with them a new understanding of how to Respect the Water.
They will have seen this year’s Respect the Water video which encourages anyone falling into the water to try to float, rather than instinctively trying to swim hard.
They may have seen the demonstrations of how to deploy the throw bag by Guy and the team and realise its effectiveness.
This initiative and its new collaboration with licensed premises demonstrate an evolution into a valuable community based approach to education, training and safety around these important water-based issues. As always, the RNLI demonstrate a wholehearted desire to effect positive change through the commitment, drive, passion and enthusiasm of its members.
When I first spoke to Andy Butterfield, Guy Addington and Ross Macleod back in 2014 I never imagined the association would develop into what represents, for me, an ongoing tribute to my son’s memory. The remarkable prevention and rescue organisation that is the RNLI facilitates opportunities for an ordinary individual like me to truly make a difference for the future in drowning prevention. I am very proud to be involved.
The Starfish Story
Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.
One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so he walked faster to catch up.
As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.
He came closer still and called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”
The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”
“I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the somewhat startled wise man.
To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”
Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, “But, young man, do you not realise that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”
At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, “It made a difference for that one.”