Sunday sit-down with…Anna Heslop, RNLI
We spoke to the first female Helm of the Cullercoats RNLI in its 170–year history
Not everyone can say that they’ve made history, but Anna Heslop has done just that.
At just 25 years old, she’s become the first female Helm of the Cullercoats RNLI in the charity’s 170-year history – and only the third female Helm in the whole of the North East, ever. Impressive, right?
Many of us complain after a hard day’s work, but a day’s work is rarely plain sailing for Anna – who braves the perishing North Sea, sometimes working up to 14-hour shifts as she battles stress and trauma to save lives on a daily basis. But while she literally holds the fate of hundreds of us in her (very capable) hands, dealing with what we would describe as a tidal wave of pressure seems like just a drop in the ocean for Anna.
After all, Anna has been making waves at Cullercoats RNLI since the tender age of 17. She started as a voluntary crew member and assessor, as well as taking on the responsibilities of being the Face-to-Face Fundraising Manager for the RNLI in the North East. Now, having taken the reins of the Cullercoats outpost of the charity as Helm, she commands the search and rescue vessel on call-outs, while also managing the training and assessments of her crew.
We caught up with Anna to find out what made her first join the RNLI, what attitudes have been like from her male colleagues and what it’s like being a woman in such a male-dominated industry.
What made you get involved with the RNLI?
When I was 17, I helped rescue someone while I was out walking my dogs on Whitley Bay beach. I called the ‘sea police’ to come and carry out the rescue. I was invited down to the station and joined up when I found out they had no women! I loved it so much, I never left.
What work do you do in your role as Helm?
As a helm, I’m now qualified to be in overall command of the lifeboat during training and search and rescue operations. This involves being responsible for the safety of the crew and the casualties, while safely navigating the lifeboat in prevailing conditions.
We can imagine your role is tough at times. What would you say are the best and worst parts of your job?
The RNLI is an incredible organisation. I love that there are volunteers all around the UK and Ireland, who all risk their lives to save others at a drop of a hat. As Helm, I love being able to train and coach other crew members. It’s so rewarding to see people develop over time to then become competent crew members within your team. I also love knowing that I can play a key role within rescue when you launch to peoples’ aid. The hardest part of the role is knowing that we can’t always save everyone, no matter how hard we try.
How do you feel being the first female Helm at Cullercoats RNLI in 170 years? You’re making history!
It’s been almost two months since I passed out as Helm but it’s only just beginning to sink in! It’s so exciting to think I am a part of history and I hope that I’m the first female Helm of many to come in the future of our station.
What struggles have you faced as a young woman in the RNLI?
Occasionally, you do come across people who think you can’t achieve something because you’re a woman. It can be hard to stand up to this mentally sometimes, but things won’t change unless you do. I’m lucky to have an incredibly supportive crew, as well as friends and family who have helped me every step of the way.
What would you say to any other women who are interested in joining the RNLI?
If you want to do it then bite the bullet and do it! It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. I have met amazing people and done things I never thought I would be able to do.
How have you overcome the stereotypes that come with being a woman in the RNLI?
I’ve worked hard, studied and strived to always get better ever since I joined. I aim to continually show that women can do this role and do it well. And I still have a lot to learn.
Is there anything you’d like to say to our readers who often visit the coast?
The RNLI is the charity that saves lives at sea. This year we’re expecting to be busier than ever, so we’re urging people to stay safe if they are heading to the coast.
If you find yourself in cold water – float to live. Call 999 if you can and ask for the coastguard if you or anyone you’re with gets into trouble at the coast. Stay safe everyone.
Or pop by the Cullercoats station and say hello to Anna and the team: Cullercoats Lifeboat Station, Cullercoats Harbour, North Side, Cullercoats, North Shields NE30 4PZ