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Lifesaving club goes under after 35 years as students dry up
Published 18/02/13

A LIFESAVING club in Henley has been forced to close after 35 years due to rising course prices and lack of interest.

The lifesaving section of Henley Swimming Club has been based at Henley leisure centre since 1977.

But after just two people signed up for its latest course, the club had no option but to stop coaching.

The decline in numbers has been partly blamed on the decision of the Royal Life Saving Society to withdraw its bronze medallion award.

This was used as part of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and GCSE courses and taught water rescue skills, resuscitation and basic water safety.

The club offered weekly sessions during term time for anyone over the age of 13 and at its peak would take around 10 trainees.

It also offered a qualification for teachers called the National Rescue Award.

Trainer assessor Ann Parker, who had run the club since 2000, said: “The bronze medallion was the most basic and popular qualification.

“When the society stopped the award it meant that the only other option was for people to take the national pool lifeguarding qualification, which is only useful for pools and not many other activities.

“It was also expensive at around £300 to £500. Youngsters cannot afford that and neither can their parents. The course also has to be renewed every two years.”

Mrs Parker, 78, from Stoke Row, said she was “very sad” to see the club go.

“It does a lot for the river and the town — it is a big loss,” she said. “Henley is very well known for everything that goes on with the river but we were not getting the interest.

“It also needs someone younger to run the club — it has really got too much for me. But you have to have someone with the relevant qualifications to run the courses and as it is voluntary and not paid, people now do not want or have the time to do it.”

Mary Aldred, of Luker Avenue, Henley, started as secretary of the club in 1977.

She said: “The Royal Life Saving Society introduced a new set of badges, though these do not lead to any formal qualifications.

“Further qualifications are needed so that someone can become a lifeguard at a public pool or on a beach.

“There does not seem to be much interest in lifesaving. We have put the word around local swimming groups and had no response.

“With Henley being a riverside town everyone needs to have some knowledge of water safety. It is a worthwhile thing to teach people to be safe and be able to help others in difficulty.

“People will now have to go further away for this, which is a shame as it should be in Henley.”

The women estimated that hundreds, possibly thousands, of people had taken qualifications at the club over the years.

Mrs Aldred said: “It is a real shame. The Reading lifesaving branch has also closed, so I think people might now have to go as far as Bracknell or High Wycombe to do the course.”

Di Standley, chief executive of the Royal Life Saving Society, said: “In the current economic climate we are continuing to see the devastating impact this has on our lifesaving and lifeguarding clubs.

“We are saddened to hear of closures such as this but we will continue to provide support to all our member clubs.”

A spokesman for the society said the bronze medallion award was now being offered as part of the Survive and Save programme.

She said: “This strengthens our programme as additional silver and gold medallions are available to develop valuable lifesaving skills and provide clubs with more opportunities to engage with members and the local community.”

Published 18/02/13

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