Teacakes toasted at St Abbs lifeboat official launch

By Giancarlo Rinaldi
South Scotland reporter, BBC Scotland news website

image copyrightDougie johnston Photography

A remarkable story of community commitment and business philanthropy has been completed in a small seaside village in the Scottish Borders.

A little over a year ago, the RNLI lifeboat sailed out of the harbour at St Abbs for the final time.

It brought to an end a service which the popular Berwickshire diving spot had enjoyed for more than a century.

However, local fundraising and a large donation from Boyd Tunnock have seen a new boat officially launched.

It is a day the lifeboat crew could hardly have believed would be possible just 12 months ago.

media captionScottish Borders community launches replacement lifeboat

It appeared then that cover would be provided from the nearby station at Eyemouth.

Nonetheless, people like coxswain Paul Crowe never gave up hope of raising the hundreds of thousands of pounds needed to buy their own boat and run their own service.

"We have had a lifeboat for 112 years and we basically need one," he said.

"We are at the heart of the diving community on the east coast of Britain as far as I'm concerned.

"A fast response is undoubtedly needed here."

A modern lifeboat does not come cheap and a local campaign estimated it would need up to £500,000 to get one up and running.

Timeline: St Abbs lifeboat

  • 11 May 2015 - RNLI announces lifeboat station is to close after an "extensive review"
  • 1 September 2015 - A petition of about 13,000 signatures opposes the move
  • 8 September 2015 - The RNLI closes the station at St Abbs
  • 1 October 2015 - An appeal is launched to fund an independent lifeboat
  • 24 November 2015 - Boyd Tunnock agrees to put £250,000 towards the boat
  • 29 July 2016 - The new lifeboat arrives in the village
  • 17 September 2016 - The official launch of the Thomas Tunnock takes place

The community rallied round at a series of fundraising events and other donations were received to make gradual progress towards the ambitious target.

Then, in November last year, a successful businessman and keen sailor suddenly accelerated matters.

Boyd Tunnock, owner of the famous teacake and caramel wafer makers, sent a donation of £10,000 which led to further talks with campaigners.

He subsequently agreed to put up £250,000 if they agreed to name the boat the Thomas Tunnock in honour of both his grandfather and late brother.

It meant the service was able to return to the waters off St Abbs much sooner than expected.

The boat has already been in operation but the official launch took place on Saturday, attended by Mr Tunnock and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

image copyrightThinkstock

It was the conclusion of an emotional journey for local residents.

"Everybody was over the moon when the new boat arrived," said Mr Crowe. "The whole village turned out."

He said the boat was capable of the swift response necessary for any emergency call-outs in the area.

"It is an animal, for the want of a better description," he said.

"It can do 45 knots without thinking about it."

Mr Tunnock was on hand to see the result of his donation at the special launch and celebration of the boat's arrival.

Without his contribution, it might have taken quite a bit longer for the community's dream to be realised.

As he said at the time of making his commitment, £250,000 translates to a "lot of caramel wafers".

But what it has brought to St Abbs certainly tastes sweet to those who feared they might never see a lifeboat based in their village again.

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