Press release

Flexible employers boost volunteer efforts to save lives at sea

A volunteer lifeboat crew member has praised his Opencast employers for giving him the flexibility on working hours to give him time to help save lives at sea.

On this week’s 200th anniversary of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), lifeboat crew member James Waters said that, without the commitment of companies like Opencast, the institution could not deliver its vital work.

James is a helm for an inshore RNLI lifeboat that works out of the Tynemouth Lifeboat Station based at North Shields. He has served with the RNLI since 2016 and joined Opencast as a product manager last spring. Since then, James has attended 27 separate RNLI emergencies.

“In making the move to Opencast I needed to know the company would give me the time needed for my RNLI role,” he said. “They’ve given me that commitment and they’ve just been great – really flexible.

“As an RNLI volunteer, callouts can happen at any time, day or night. Recently I was called out during an Opencast client meeting to help someone who was stranded in the Tyne, holding on to an upside-down boat.

“I was able to hand over my work to a colleague and attend the incident, pulling the casualty out of the water, getting them to a place of safety and giving them the best care possible before ambulance crews arrived.

“Without Opencast’s flexibility and the understanding of our clients, the incident could have turned out very differently.”

Colour photo of man wearing yellow lifejacket with a lifeboat in the background
Opencast’s James Waters is an RNLI volunteer

Flexible working is key

Originally from Stockton-on-Tees, James moved to Newcastle to be closer to his then employer, HMRC. He then moved to North Shields, from where he could see from his window the RNLI’s all-weather and inshore lifeboats going about their work.

James explained: “I was intrigued by the RNLI so went along to an open day and boarded a couple of the boats. I was hooked and have been involved ever since. I’m now one of 30 crew members at North Shields. We train once a week as it’s vitally important to keep up with the equipment and processes.

“Most of our work is around the Tyne, South Shields and Longsands, although we did get a call-out to a yacht with a broken rudder 55 miles off the Tyne. The call-out came at midnight and it took us four or five hours to rendezvous with the yacht – and after that we had a long journey towing the boat into the Tyne.

“I got back to my house at 10am, had 20 minutes sleep and then I was back to my day job. I’d contacted Opencast to say I might be late in, and they were fine. They were also really flexible when I had to attend a week-long training course at the RNLI’s HQ in Dorset.”

Angela Rook, RNLI associate director, said: “The RNLI has been saving lives for 200 years, thanks to the dedication of our volunteers and supporters. Without supportive employers like Opencast, we would not be able to offer an effective service and continue to save lives for many years to come. The RNLI’s mission is to save every one. Through the support of employers, this mission becomes even more achievable. Thanks to Opencast for their continuing support.”

Opencast’s head of people experience Cameron Smith said: “When James joined Opencast, we were ready from the start to support his commitment to the RNLI. In doing this, we’ve been supported by our clients, who recognise the immense value of James’s volunteering efforts.

“We strive to support all of our people’s interests outside of work, including through flexible working policies. We are always open to discuss with our people how we can support their efforts for emergency services, such as the essential work that James does for RNLI. We also offer skills-based volunteering to support non-profits, including those that promote better health and wellbeing in society.

“We’re proud to support the RNLI and congratulate it on 200 years of saving lives and making our rivers and seas safer places.”

James, who is also a volunteer press officer for the RNLI, added: “I love working for Opencast and I love my role with the RNLI – so I’m hugely thankful to Opencast for allowing me to do both. My lifeboat work is clearly so different from my day job, but it allows me to give something back, be part of a community and do some good – and it can also be exciting.

“When you pull someone out of the water, the relief on their face and the thanks they give you are what keep you going.”

The RNLI is the largest of the lifeboat services operating around the coasts of the UK. It is a registered charity and most of the members of its 5,700 lifeboat crew members are unpaid volunteers. They’re supported by 4,000 volunteer shore crew and station management.

Ships or boats in distress contact the emergency services by telephone or radio, and calls are redirected to HM Coastguard, which then coordinates air-sea rescue operations – and may call on the RNLI.

I love working for Opencast and I love my role with the RNLI – so I’m hugely thankful to Opencast for allowing me to do both. My lifeboat work is clearly so different from my day job, but it allows me to give something back, be part of a community and do some good.

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