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Commitment to the Coast | Tom Kay

As part of our collaboration with the RNLI, we’re shining a light on the everyday heroes who volunteer for the world’s oldest lifesaving charity – putting their lives on the line to keep coastal communities safe.
The driving force behind the collaboration, Finisterre Founder Tom Kay, has been a volunteer at the St Agnes Lifeboat station for nigh on 20 years. Now a helm, we sat down with Tom to talk about his two decades of commitment, and the shared values that inspired the collaboration.

 

Tom Kay RNLI Helm at St Agnes Lifeboat Station

You’ve been a lifeboat crewmember for many years now, but what was it that initially made you want to sign up as a volunteer?

I’ve been in and around coastal communities most of my life, and have always been aware of the RNLI, the role they play and that volunteer ethos that goes back over 200 years. So when I moved to St Agnes and started Finisterre, nearly 20 years ago now, joining the RNLI and being a volunteer member of the lifeboat crew here was something I’d always wanted to do, and this was the first chance I’d really had to do it. It felt like something that I could and should do; being where we are in the village and playing a part in this coastal community that has a need 24/7 – so it’s something I felt I really ought to do and am massively proud to be a part of.

Are there any particular rescues or moments that stand out for you over those 20 years that you’ve served at St Agnes station?

Your pager can go off at any time, day or night, 365 days a year. It’s always with you, mine’s here on my desk right now. Whenever that pager goes off, you never know what you’re going to be going out to. So there’s always an adrenaline moment when you hear the pager alarm sound. As I’m going down the road to the station I’m thinking, “ok, what’s the swell like? What’s the wind like? What’s the sea conditions like?” mentally preparing myself for what I might be called out to do. Even after 20 years, that same emotion and feeling still exists for me.

I suppose when you get a shout over the winter, that’s always quite serious. Firstly, because it’s usually rougher and stormy, but also because you know that if someone’s in the water at that time of year the survival chances really diminish very quickly with the cold water. I guess one of the biggest shouts I’ve had was to a lady who had got stuck at Perranporth, trying to rescue her dogs. We luckily got there in time and she was ok, but we ended up having to rescue her dogs and the propellor hit the rocks and the engine broke, so we had to wade and swim the boat round to shore. It was really quite hairy, but everyone was saved and ended up all ok. That was in January around four in the afternoon on a pretty stormy winter's day, so it was quite an extreme shout actually.

 

All weather RNLI lifeboat in stormy seas | Image by Nigel Millard

You touched on it a little, but are there any specific challenges of working out of Trevaunance Cove here in St Agnes?

Yeah, so the station down at Trevaunance has been a lifeboat station for over 50 years. We have a D-Class lifeboat, which is a tough 14ft rigid inflatable boat; 50 horsepower on the back, and you have 2 crew and one helm. On its day, it’s actually one of the roughest stations in the country on its day because it’s a surf station. It’s just us and Bude which are officially surf stations. Any station can have surf, but there’s regularly big surf at St Agnes and Bude; it's these stations that face straight out into the full force of the Atlantic. It's not unusual to have have 6-8ft (2m) waves breaking over the boat. On these big days, as helm, you're trying to find the fastest and best route out.

Why did you feel it was so important to do this collaboration between Finisterre and the RNLI?

Well, at Finisterre we to do collaborations with like-minded brands and charities where there’s a shared ethos. And I can’t really think of a better partner than the RNLI; with a shared love and respect for the sea that is deeply ingrained into both Finisterre and the RNLI.

For me personally, being a crewmember for over 20 years and now being a helm, that connection goes back a long way. There’s great common ground between the volunteer ethos and 200 years of history and heritage that the RNLI has, and the innovation and storytelling that Finisterre brings with our romance, sustainability and fabric knowledge. You bring those together in a range like we have done and it’s super exciting and something I’m immensely proud of.

The strapline of the campaign is “with courage, nothing is impossible”. Can you speak a little to the meaning behind that and why it was chosen for the collaboration?

“With courage, nothing is impossible” was the motto of the RNLI when it was founded by Sir William Hillary. There’s many stories that have been told and brought to life over those 200 years of history that really illustrate that; volunteers putting themselves at risk to save someone else who is in trouble in the sea. And that ethos still exists today as much as it did 200 years ago. You could even say it's a good motto for life in general!

 

Two RNLI volunteers stand on deck against a ferociously stormy sea

I talk about this a lot. On the one hand, for me, being a part of this coastal community and joining the RNLI was just something I did because I was here, and it was something I wanted to do. So on the one hand, it’s not a big deal - there are 238 RNLI stations and 5600 volunteers around the country. On the other hand, when you put out to sea, you’re being brave, you’re putting yourself at risk to save somebody. There’s a huge amount of training that goes into that. So, it’s this amazing thing where in one way it’s just something you do, but on the other it is really quite a huge deal.

If you could sum up what you do for the RNLI in one word, what would that be?

I would say… commitment.

Because it’s a commitment to go out to sea. It’s commitment from your friends and family who are left behind. Commitment to leave the kid’s bath time, or whatever it is. Just commitment all round.

 

Words by Tom Kay | Images by Nigel Millard
 
10% of every sale from the RNLI + Finisterre collection goes to support the vital work of the RNLI, the charity that saves lives at sea.


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