Wiltshire Search and Rescue volunteers were requested 165 times in 2020, an increase of over 100 callouts compared to 2019. In fact, the volunteers were on average called out two and half times more than in 2019, giving 16,172 of hours to their community.
The first call-out of 2021 took place at just a few minutes past midnight into the New Year and saw volunteers deployed to an area of woodland near Warminster.
The increase in call-outs is a combination of a tough year, with people’s mental health being affected by the global pandemic. It is also a result of continued close, highly-professional working relationships with the emergency services and a renewed focus for the volunteers on being adaptable to a variety of asks.
During a difficult year for everyone, the team members were on-hand to find, rescue and treat vulnerable missing people.
They also supported local hospitals during their most demanding period since World War Two, and provided a no-notice service to move vital equipment such as ventilators to where they needed to be during the difficult days of the first wave of coronavirus.
Team members also joined a number of other voluntary organisations to assist Wiltshire Council with Welfare Check visits. Over 3,000 vulnerable people were visited at home to ensure they were safe and well when they couldn’t be contacted by phone.
These efforts were acknowledged in October 2020 by Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant of Wiltshire, Mrs Sarah Rose Troughton.
85 volunteers now make up the team, who give their time completely for free, to support the emergency services and in tasks that require the team’s specialist search, rescue, medical and water skills.
The team also took part in over 1,300 hours of training and 2,100 hours of fundraising to ensure that the charity – which solely relies on donations – could keep going.
Fundraising was particularly challenging in 2020 with the majority of the normal events that the team would have attended being cancelled.
But the fundraising become ever more innovative, including Pewsey resident, Simon’s, epic camp-out during the November lockdown which saw him raise over £2,500 for the charity.
Adrian Sawyer, chair of Wiltshire Search and Rescue, said “This has been our busiest year ever. This is partly due to our increased close working relationship with the police, fire and ambulance services, as well as alongside Great Western Hospital, and our ability to quickly mobilise a number of our volunteers anywhere in Wiltshire with very little notice.
The global pandemic has challenged everyone across the county and our volunteers have been able to support where needed, be on call for our searching tasks and our expertise has been used on a number of occasions.
I’m proud of the efforts of every one of our volunteers and know that we will continue to be here when our community needs us most.”
As the charity looks towards its 20th anniversary in February 2021, the volunteers’ thoughts turn to the financial challenges of keeping the team going.
Wiltshire Search and Rescue receives no regular statutory funding and every pound needed to keep the volunteers kitted out with vital medical supplies, or to make sure the fuel tanks on the vehicles are full, has to be fundraised.
Businesses are encouraged to get in touch with the team if they can offer goods, services or sponsorship over the coming months to ensure that the torches can be charged and the training can continue.
There will be further information on the twenty-year anniversary in due course.
Adrian adds, “We are proud of the volunteering that we do and 2020 saw some challenging, emotional and rewarding searches for our team. We are also so grateful for everyone who has given £1 or £10,000 towards the cause. We have to fundraise every penny that we need including headlight bulbs, bandages, head torches and maps. Fundraising is as vital as our search work because it is what keeps us able to help when our community needs us most. We continue to need help in this area so please offer what you can.”
Chief Constable, Wiltshire Police, Kier Pritchard said: “We are extremely grateful to every member of Wiltshire Search and Rescue. They work tirelessly and without reward to support our officers and staff with our work to find and help vulnerable missing people.
“It never ceases to amaze me that there is a whole cohort of volunteers who wait by their phones to leap into action as soon as we call. We thank you all for everything you do for Wiltshire and beyond.”