'Our lifeboat station has hardly changed since 1892'

John Collins
John Collins has worked in the cramped conditions at Kirkcudbright for more than three decades [BBC]

At the end of a bumpy, bone-shaking track along the Solway coast sits a Victorian building which has remained largely unchanged for more than 130 years.

It is from this tiny boathouse that the Kirkcudbright lifeboat has been launching its rescue missions for a century and more.

Now the RNLI hopes to give the volunteer crew a modernised £1.2m facility to bring it into the 21st Century.

As part of that drive, they are looking to raise £50,000 locally to transform the building and ensure its lifesaving work can continue for years to come.

The boathouse is one of the oldest the RNLI has in Scotland [BBC]

Lifeboat operations manager John Collins has more than three decades of experience of working in such cramped conditions under his belt.

He said the expanded and improved facility was long overdue.

"It is very much needed," he said.

"The actual boathouse itself has stood here since 1892 and I don't think it's changed much at all in all that time.

"I think if an original crew member could walk in the door he would recognise the place."

Rescue operation
One major rescue happened just a few hundred yards from the boathouse when a fishing boat hit the rocks [BBC]

John said all they were after was a "few more decent facilities", a bit more privacy now they have female crew members and an indoor toilet.

At the moment, they rely on a fairly unwelcoming portable lavatory standing outside the premises.

"It'll make a tremendous difference, especially to the shore crew," said John.

"Once the boat’s away, they've got to stand about in a cold, wet boathouse with nowhere warm to go and sit and put the kettle on.

"Also, for the crew coming back to the station, it will be a warm place for them to get changed in and have a shower if they need - at the moment we've just got to go home."

He has been part of many rescue operations but one he recalls in particular happened very nearby and also highlighted the site's shortcomings.

"We've been involved in a lot of things over the years, but probably the biggest thing happened five or six years ago and it only happened about 200 yards down from the boathouse," he said.

"It was a fishing vessel and it hit the rocks just up past the boathouse at 02:30 in the morning.

"The crew rescued the crew from the fishing boat and they had to bring them back into the boathouse and there was nowhere really warm to take them."

It meant they had to take them along the bumpy track back into Kirkcudbright to find somewhere to stay the night.

Jack Finlay
Jack Finlay is one of the newest volunteer crew members at Kirkcudbright [BBC]

Jack Finlay is one of the station's newest volunteers and hopes to see the benefits of the overhaul.

"It's hugely important for us to upgrade these facilities and continue our most vital mission, which of course is to save lives at sea," he said.

One of Jack's reasons for volunteering is a family link to the RNLI with his grandfather, John King, having been a "massive supporter" of the local operation.

"He ran the the local fishing factory," said Jack.

"The crew room where we all meet as a rallying point and jump in the Land Rover - which is in the heart of Kirkcudbright - he actually donated that building to the local branch."

He said the new facility could hopefully give them a bit more space and comfort.

"I like to think of this station as sort of an old donkey," he said.

"It still launches the boat, you know, and it still gets the job done but I think we're kind of ready for something with a bit more horsepower."

He said that meant crew members having their own changing facilities as well as a space to "sit down and discuss call outs".

"There's a sort of running joke between us and the crew that the men who are out at sea and women who are out at sea are actually warmer than the guys here freezing away in the boathouse, waiting for them to come back," he said.

The current facility has room for the boat and very little more besides [BBC]

He said anyone contributing towards the cost of the new building would be giving a "hugely important" help to people saving lives at sea.

For his part, John has no doubt that residents of the area will rally round and support the fundraising drive for the work.

"Kirkcudbright lifeboat station has been going since 1862, and we certainly couldn't have kept going that length of time without the tremendous support we've had from the local community," he said.

"Long may that continue."

Group photo
The local appeal hopes to raise £50,000 towards work at the station [BBC]