Mountain Rescue England and Wales, the umbrella organisation for mountain search and rescue teams, has announced the appointment of a new national Chairman. Mike France, who will take over from David Allan in May 2014, vows to keep mountain rescue independent of policy makers.
Mike France, 61, joined his local Peak District team Woodhead MRT at the tender age of 18, and has been involved in MREW on a national level for 17 years, most recently as Chairman of National Fundraising. In parallel with the new role he is keen to remain an active team member, to keep his finger on the pulse.
'I intend to continue my local operational mountain rescue duties,' says Mike.
'At the age of 61, I can’t beat a 25 year old to the top of the hill but that doesn’t mean to say I can’t get there. Mind you, I do tend to be back at base as search manager or incident controller! I think it’s important to me and to the membership of MREW that I continue to be involved on the practical side and aware of the challenges and issues that arise for MREW day to day.'
Today teams are on standby throughout England and Wales in case they're needed to help in flooding.
Mike France takes over at a time when the public profile of mountain rescue is high, but he recognises that this brings additional pressures and responsibilities to maintain standards and reinforce the best of rescue.
After years of lobbying (see UKH news here) MREW now receives an annual grant of about £200,000 from central government, though that's a fraction of the combined expenditure of their 48 teams. By contrast government funding north of the border nets Scottish teams about £16.5K each. In England and Wales then, fundraising remains a priority.
Meanwhile a campaign to have teams' VAT reimbursed continues.
But even if more state funding became available, Mike France is keen to maintain the independence of mountain rescue.
'I joined a voluntary rescue service many years ago and, as Chairman of MREW, I intend to continue this volunteering tradition,' he says.
'Support from central government is welcome but that is no reason to become something others think we should be – we need to be in control of our own destiny.'
Continued investments in specialist training and team insurances are also priorities for the future, ensuring that teams are left to focus on raising money for local equipment from their local communities and supporters.
In his fundraising role Mike France has already been closely involved in key areas for MREW for several years:
'I have been fortunate to attend meetings with government and our Royal Patron, HRH The Duke of Cambridge, with David [Allan] and I have worked closely with the leaders of the Princes’ other charities so I am looking forward to building on those relationships in my new role too.'
David Allan will hand over to Mike France at the national MREW meeting in Preston in May 2014 and Mike is hoping to announce his replacement as Chairman of National Fundraising then too.