Mountain rescuers battle the elements for 50th anniversary celebrations

All dressed up - but not a hi-vis in sight.

By Betsy Everett

Members of the Swaledale Mountain Rescue Team turned out in special gear on one of the coldest nights of the year last week to attend a major incident in Leyburn, raising more than £5,000 in the process.

High vis vests, waterproofs and climbing boots gave way to dinner jackets and ballgowns as the 40 active team members, partners, supporters and friends took to the dance floor at Tennants’ Garden Rooms to celebrate 50 years of round-the-clock search and rescue services in Swaledale and Wensleydale.

Blizzards, freezing temperatures and gale force winds marked the days leading up to the event and though on the evening itself the worst had passed there was still snow on the ground and the thermometer was falling. But, as always, that did nothing to deter the rescuers and supporters.
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Team president, Mac Bryant said he was “delighted” with the turn-out, the success of the evening and the amount of money raised for the “land-based lifeboat service” which operates 365 days a year in often hostile terrain and appalling conditions.

“The wonderful volunteers who turn out in all weathers never fail to amaze me. They are truly remarkable people. I can say that without boasting because although I’ve been involved first as secretary and in the last ten years as president, I’m not one of the rescue team,” said Mac, retired chief probation officer of Berkshire.

“Equipment, training, techniques and communications have changed dramatically since the service started in1968 but at the heart of everything we do are the people, and the night was about celebrating everyone’s dedication as well as raising money.”

The team depends entirely on goodwill, donations and fundraising, receiving nothing from government despite costing £35,000 a year to run, including maintenance of the purpose-built headquarters at Catterick, specialist equipment and vehicles, but not the cost of replacing the latter.

Local businesses and individuals donated generously to a secret auction and tombola, and Mac paid tribute to local employers who allow time off for volunteers to attend rescues. They are called out by all the emergency services, including the air ambulance, and volunteers train two or three times a month.

Jill Armstrong, fundraising officer for the team, said the financial success of the evening was “brilliant.”

“But what what was equally impressive and enjoyable was the way in which the evening brought together so many people who support our work,” she added.

Chair Duane Fletcher said: “Every member of Swaledale Mountain Rescue is committed to delivering the highest quality service to people and animals in distress. We are very grateful to all who supported the event.”

As well as traditional mountain rescue, the  team has specialists in underground rescue – caves and potholes – swift water rescue (the Swale is the fastest flowing river in England, says Mac) and medically-trained volunteers.