Dartmoor Search and Rescue volunteers reach 125 years of collective service

PUBLISHED: 10:24 02 October 2018 | UPDATED: 10:25 02 October 2018

Team members in the Upper Dart Valley, late 1980s

Team members in the Upper Dart Valley, late 1980s


As five members of Dartmoor Search and Rescue Ashburton celebrate 125 years of collective volunteering, we look back on their time with the organisation

In 1993 John Major was the UK Prime Minister, Bill Clinton became President of the United States, mobile phones were the size and weight of a brick, Jurassic Park (the original) was showing in cinemas and the Channel Tunnel was still a year from opening.

It was also the year that five members of the public decided they would like to volunteer with Dartmoor Search and Rescue Ashburton. Here we are 25 years later and Paula Holbrook, Kelvin Bull, Julia Brett, John Brett and Ian Lowcock are all still active members.

To mark this impressive milestone, we interviewed them to find out why they joined, why they have stayed and what has changed over the last quarter of a century.

The common reason all five joined the rescue team is a love for the outdoors and an unconditional desire to give something back. Kelvin sums it up: “I have always enjoyed the outdoors and hill and mountain walking, so for me it was the old cliché of giving something back.”

Joining is one thing but why they are all still active team members after 25 years? They all spoke of feeling a strong sense of camaraderie and the inclusiveness of the team.

Left to right: John Brett, Paula Holbrook, Julia Brett and Kelvin Bull presented with their 25 years long service to Dartmoor rescue certificatesLeft to right: John Brett, Paula Holbrook, Julia Brett and Kelvin Bull presented with their 25 years long service to Dartmoor rescue certificates

As Ian says: “Everybody plays an important part in how the team operates. There is no room for egos with each member being an equal sized cog that contributes to the greater good of the team.”

Julia talked about the team’s professionalism in training and callouts, and its ongoing desire to develop and share skills: “What keeps us going is being part of the team, with the huge sense of support, affection and shared goals and experience it brings. It has become a way of life, a demanding one both physically and emotionally on occasions, not just for us but also for our families.”

So what had changed over the 25 years? We expected them to talk about advances in technology as Paula confirms: “When I joined, night navigation and the stamina to search for long hours were the most important skills and traits. The most techie thing we had was a pager.

“Now technology has improved, providing us with lighter and more advanced equipment such as radios the size of a mobile phone when 25 years ago a radio was the size of a breeze-block and just as heavy! GPS devices now complement map and compass skills and software helps us manage searches and locate missing people.”

Much more is expected of team members now than it was 25 years ago. Ian says: “The skills expected of a team member are much more advanced now than they were. Training and assessments in casualty care (advanced first aid), swift water rescue, technical rope rescue…the list goes on.

Ian Lowcock (left) being presented with his 25 years long service certificate by team leader Keith LambethIan Lowcock (left) being presented with his 25 years long service certificate by team leader Keith Lambeth

“We also get called to a much wider range of incidents across a larger area that stretches from Salcombe to Lyme Regis and frequent searches in urban areas such as Exeter and Torbay.”

What surprised us was hearing about the gender attitudes to recruiting new team members from 25 years ago. Julia explains: “When I joined the team, it was a different era when women were not routinely given equal opportunities in many spheres of life.

“It has been a great source of pride to me that Ashburton allowed the handful of us women, who were motivated and suited to this way of life, to be accepted. Today we only consider a person’s qualities and experiences when we consider them as a trainee not their gender. That’s something to celebrate.”

What all five were agreed on was one thing which hasn’t changed in 25 years. The commitment of the rescue team volunteers to continue to do their utmost regardless of the time of day, or the weather, to find lost or injured individuals.

John concludes: “You respond to a callout for a missing person at 3am to search difficult ground in poor weather. You look around you and see your teammates who have all volunteered to look for somebody they don’t know.

“It really does give you a nice warm feeling knowing there are people who will still give back to their community without reward or recognition anytime of day or night just because they want to help.’

This article has focused on 25 years with Dartmoor Search and Rescue Ashburton but of course for these volunteers, life outside the rescue team has always marched on; jobs, relationships, houses, births, deaths, marriages but their commitment has never wavered as they continue to respond to calls to help someone they have never met.


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