Dedicated RNLI fundraiser Joan Webb celebrating her 99th birthday this weekend
Joan Webb is celebrating her 99th birthday this weekend, and is still as committed to RNLI volunteering as ever
Despite having never lived close enough to the shoreline to hear maroons going off when the lifeboats launched, Joan has always been drawn to the sea. With over 32,000 people helped by RNLI lifesavers in the UK last year, Joan believes it is as important to support the RNLI from her home in Basingstoke as it would be if she lived in a more coastal Hampshire location, and she certainly does so with a heart of gold.
Growing up in the 1920’s in England, Joan says: ‘My mother was a loyal RNLI supporter, so she got me involved first. I remember standing eagerly with her whilst she volunteered at church-gate collections when I was four or five years old, as tall as her waist.’ Her mother would collect donations and enthusiastically recount stories of RNLI volunteers saving lives at sea. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved at least 142,200 lives.
As Joan grew older and taller, she teamed up with her mother, shaking a collection box of her own. She learnt more about the RNLI’s service, hearing tales of the sea from a medley of family members, some who served in the Royal Navy, and others who were sailing and boating enthusiasts.
Joan became an expert linguist and spent over two decades working for Her Majesty’s Diplomatic Service, at the British Embassy in Bonn, the then capital of West Germany.
The RNLI and its volunteers remained on Joan’s mind during her many exciting years abroad. Returning home to England in the early 80’s, she settled in Basingstoke, Hampshire and offered her services to the Basingstoke and District RNLI Branch; a local unit dedicated to raising funds for the charity, and was gratefully accepted to the group. She attended committee meetings and helped with regular collections at supermarkets, twice-yearly coffee mornings and the popular Christmas card sale every December, all of which, it should be noted, she still helps at now!
In 1985, Joan took on the role of Box Secretary for the Branch. For 20 years, she was responsible for collecting and distributing fundraising boxes in shops, bars, restaurants and every countertop she could negotiate placing a box on. Upon collecting these, she had the arduous task of counting the money, lodging and reporting it. Joan maintains that the reason she resigned from this role was that: ‘My eyesight let me down; I couldn’t see the coins as well as I was able to before. I didn’t want to be making accounting errors!’
The RNLI awarded Joan with the Gold Badge in 2016, Silver Badge in 2004 and Bronze Badge in 1997, recognising her dedication and commitment to raising funds for the charity. Her nomination for the Gold Badge cited that: ‘Even at the age of 95 Joan manages to attend committee meetings and help out on supermarket collections when she is able. She also organises RNLI Christmas card sales at her retirement home.’
As it draws closer to its 200th anniversary, the RNLI’s vision remains same; to end preventable loss of life at sea. Its capacity has improved monumentally through growth, innovation and the dedication of volunteers including 4,600 lifeboat crew and 3,000 shore crew and tens of thousands of other dedicated volunteers who raise funds and awareness, give safety advice, and help in our museums, shops and offices.
Currently in the UK and Ireland, the charity’s mission is to reduce drowning by 50%, by 2024. It endeavours to do this through providing: a 24-hour search and rescue service at its 238 lifeboat stations; beach lifeguard patrols at 249 beaches; 8 flood rescue teams ready to carry out search and rescue services in severe flooding situations; and Community Safety teams sharing safety knowledge.
Dave Nicoll, Area Manager for RNLI Community Fundraising says: ‘With 95% of our total income coming from generous donations and legacies, we depend on our dedicated volunteers and supporters to save lives at sea. Every penny raised by fundraisers like Joan means our lifeboat crews can reunite the 22 people they aid each day with their families.
Joan is an incredible inspiration to us all. I cannot fathom how much she has collected in her donation boxes, and how many people she has shared the RNLI’s safety messages with over the years, there is no doubt that her work has contributed to saving numerous lives at sea. The RNLI are incredibly grateful for her many years of dedicated fundraising, and wish her a very happy birthday.’
Four years after receiving her Gold Badge, Joan continues to give up multiple weekends a year to help out with events. Most recently she has volunteered at local collections at GO Camping, Morrison’s and Tesco. She credits her fellow committee members whom she has ‘forged fantastic friendships with over the years.’
In addition to her dedication to fundraising at Basingstoke, Joan is among the group of unsung heroes and heroines who have incredibly kindly pledge legacies to the charity.
This weekend, she is tying her love of all things water-based and European culture together by celebrating her 99th birthday on a River Cruise in France. She looks forward to fireworks co-celebrating her birthday and Bastille Day. However, she is in a conundrum as to how she will celebrate her centenary birthday. With consideration being given to options including bungee jumping, and being involved in the launch of a lifeboat, we have no doubt that it will be a big one!
NOTES TO THE EDITOR:
The RNLI are always looking for people, from all walks of life, to help us save more lives at sea - whether you’re keen to become a crew member, fancy your hand at fundraising or being involved with community safety initiatives. If you’re curious to see what capacity you could volunteer in, meet our volunteers here or check out our current volunteer vacancies.
Key facts about the RNLI
The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates over 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives.