Foyle Search & Rescue have thanked local people for their support over the years as they announced details of their programme to mark the charity’s 25th anniversary.
Numerous events are planned over the coming year, including a past volunteers reunion, Wiped Out Challenge, Viking Boat Race and a summer Gala Ball.
Speaking at their base in Prehen this week, Stephen Twells, chairman of Foyle Search and Rescue, said: “The likes of founding member Billy Garnon could hardly have thought somebody would be standing here recognising the fact that 25 years on we have gone on from doing the duty nights, which we still do and which are still really important, to branch out into education with primary school and teenagers, offering fantastic training skills for volunteers up to almost paramedic level, as well as being involved strategically in the likes of local planning, and regional planning with the Department of Justice.
“And we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the people of the town. The people, the Council and the Public Health Agency have probably been our three biggest supporters.”
Over the past quarter of a century, Foyle Search & Rescue have had a huge impact locally and are widely regarded as the city and region’s fourth emergency service.
Figures released by the charity last month revealed that since it was founded in 1993, the hundreds of people who have volunteered over the years were involved in rescuing a total of 367 people from the river, and intervened to help in excess of 3,231 potentially suicidal people during duty nights and emergency call outs.
Over the years, Foyle Search and Rescue have also recovered the bodies of 135 people who lost their lives in the River Foyle.
And the charity plans to hold a Memorial Service during this, its anniversary year in memory of all those who have died by suicide.
Speaking about the programme, Stephen Twells said: “For me, although we have a big calendar of events, the three main events would be the Gala Ball in June, and we are also going to have an event where we invite all past volunteers to come in to reminisce and get together, and then also a Memorial Service.”
Mr Twells said that securing the much-needed extension to their base at Prehen was probably the charity’s biggest achievement over the past decade, achieved with the help of local people.
“As we got bigger and bigger we needed more space for volunteers, so we can now bring in schools and youth clubs for training, and when we are involved in searching for somebody we now have the right premises here, we can provide food and accommodation for people,” he said.
“We have won plenty of awards over the years but the highlight is the fact that we have been able to help so many people.”
Mr Twells said the charity wouldn’t be where it was without the contribution of its volunteers and staff.
Speaking about volunteering, Mr Twells said: “Money couldn’t pay us for what we are able to achieve - helping people out there on a duty night or bringing back somebody’s loved one that has gone missing is payment enough.”
Volunteer James Kealey was among the volunteers who joined Foyle Search and Rescue back in the 1990s, and returned to join the ranks of the volunteers two years ago.
He said the charity has come along way since the days before the current modern base was in use, and said he is glad to be back volunteering with the organisation a second time.
Forthcoming events include an Outdoor Cinema at the Playtrail, Belmont, on Saturday, February 24. With February being the month of Valentine’s, there will be two romantic-themed films shown on the day, including Gnomeo and Juliet at 1.30pm for families, with a couples’ evening showing of Romeo and Juliet at 7pm, with local businesses also expected to get involved. Suggested donation is £5 per group and pre-booking is required.
On Saturday, April 28, Bounce Away Entertainment will be holding the popular 5K Wiped Out Challenge at City of Derry Rugby Club.
The annual bucket appeal will take place door-to-door across the city from May 21 to 25, while the following month will see the 10k Hard As Oak Challenge returning on Saturday and Sunday, June 23 and 24.
Speaking about the year ahead, Christina McKeegan, FSR Project Co-ordinator said: “There will be educational talks, and we want to help showcase the partnerships we have with police, CCTV, the Western Trust and others, and we want to build relationships and create new partnerships. And we want to give back to the community.”
For programme details as the year progresses, and to register for specific events, keep an eye on Foyle Search and Rescue’s website at www.foylesearchandrescue.com/