Fell rescue service’s battle for better location

Members of Upper Wharfdale Fell Rescue Association, based in Grassington, on the fells. The organisation is pressing ahead with huge refurbishment to headquarters to meet growing demands on rescue team. Picture Tony Johnson
Members of Upper Wharfdale Fell Rescue Association, based in Grassington, on the fells. The organisation is pressing ahead with huge refurbishment to headquarters to meet growing demands on rescue team. Picture Tony Johnson
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IT IS a strange sort of irony when England’s very first purpose-built mountain rescue headquarters is no longer fit for purpose. For Upper Wharfedale Fell Rescue Association (UWFRA), however, that joke isn’t funny anymore.

The house-like building was “bursting at the seams”, pile upon pile of kit stored haphazardly, specialist Land Rovers crammed into the remaining space before the team moved out last month.

Chairman Pete Huff with Alan Scowcroft, of the Upper Wharfdale Fell Rescue Association based in Grassington.

Chairman Pete Huff with Alan Scowcroft, of the Upper Wharfdale Fell Rescue Association based in Grassington.

At best, it’s inconvenient. At worst, it is the few minutes, or seconds difference in reaching someone in need - and, as the UWFRA’s recent call-out to the flood-ravaged county of Cumbria recently shows, this often extends beyond the thousands of people who venture outdoors in search of some of Yorkshire’s finest scenery every year.

Despite financial pressures, members decided enough was enough and are pressing ahead with a major refurbishment.

“The responsibilities of mountain rescue teams have grown enormously,” explained Alan Scowcroft, aged 59.

“The building has been extended a couple of times but it was literally bursting at the seams.”

2 December 2015.......  Members of Upper Wharfdale Fell Rescue Association, based in Grassington, on the fells. The organisation is pressing ahead with huge refurbishment to headquarters to meet growing demands on rescue team. Picture Tony Johnson

2 December 2015....... Members of Upper Wharfdale Fell Rescue Association, based in Grassington, on the fells. The organisation is pressing ahead with huge refurbishment to headquarters to meet growing demands on rescue team. Picture Tony Johnson

So much has changed in the world of mountain and cave rescue since 1978, when the team’s current Grassington building, affectionately known as The Hut, first opened that it can be of little surprise that the UWFRA has outgrown it.

Volunteer Howard Driver, aged 71, of Embsay, who has spent 50 years with UWFRA, recalls how constraints imposed on the building - limiting its ability to move with the times.

He said: “It was the first specialist centre of its kind.

“When the plans were first drawn up they were like an ambulance or fire station, but the planners were worried we’d run out of money. We had to make sure it looked like a house from the outside so they could sell it on if we did.”

Demand for the time of this body of dedicated volunteers is increasing. Last year, the team was called out 53 times.

The figure for 2015 has topped that. The 55th call-out was a desperate plea from colleagues in Cumbria to assist in flooding relief efforts.

Guided by torchlight, they waded through chest-height water in the houses of Carlisle to evacuate residents - including four generations of one family, from an 81-year-old great grandmother right down to a nine-month-old baby - described as a ‘surreal’ experience for the water rescue team.

Lack of storage space for equipment and room for adequate training facilities is one of the biggest problems.

The need for a full refurbishment and extension has been acknowledged for some time, but a fundraising appeal for the £40,000 has fallen a little short - even without “luxuries” such as a tarmacking the drive.

“There are a few grants which we’ve applied for which we may still get, but in the meantime we’ve cut back on some things to afford it,” explained Mr Scowcroft.

Members are making do with a temporary base until the spring, when work is expected to be completed.

“As a charity we have to keep three years worth of running costs in the bank, irrespective of anything else we might need,” said Mr Driver.

“That’s £120,000 just to stand still, never mind new equipment or investing in other things. The public have been very generous, but every little helps.”

Members, all volunteers, have devoted 1,631 man-hours to call-outs already this year.