Hastings and Camber Sands beaches could be left without lifeguards this year

Beaches at Hastings and Camber Sands could be unprotected this summer due to measures put in place by the government to control the spread of coronavirus.

Wednesday, 13th May 2020, 1:50 pm
Updated Wednesday, 13th May 2020, 3:16 pm
Lifeguards at Camber

From today (Wednesday, May 13), people in England are now allowed to travel to the coast and use the water, while many people may choose to participate in water-based activities such as swimming, kayaking, surfing, boating and angling.

However, as lifeguards are not eligible for furlough payments – in which the government covers 80 per cent of wages – there are currently no RNLI lifeguards on beaches as a number of them are engaged in other employment.

RNLI lifeguards normally patrol the beaches in Camber, Hastings and Bexhill during the summer months (from April to October).

The beach at Camber Central was due to be patrolled over the Easter and May Bank Holidays before daily operations between May 23 to October 4.

Patrols at Camber West were due to start on May 23, with weekend-only patrols from May 30 to July 5 and full week patrols from Jully 11 to September 6.

The beaches at Hastings Pelham, Hastings Pier and St Leonards were due to be patrolled over the May half term and on weekends between June 6 and July 5. Full time patrols were due to take place from July 11 to September 6.

Up until now, the beaches have remained closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic but they were reopened for visitors today.

In a statement, the RNLI said: “The RNLI normally patrols over 240 beaches around the coast, however, rollout of the normal seasonal lifeguard service was paused at the end of March due to the measures put in place by the UK Government to control the spread of Coronavirus.

“The charity is currently working with local authorities and beach owners in the hope that it can provide a lifeguard service on around 30 per cent of the beaches the charity usually covers this summer. Re-establishing this infrastructure and distributing equipment to beaches will take time. We must also make sure that conditions are safe for our lifeguards to provide an effective service – our priority remains to be the safety of our people and the public.”

There are concerns that people will flock to the beaches as the weather improves into the summer.

Particular concern relates to Camber Sands where lifeguards were introduced to patrol the beaches after seven people died there in 2016. The beach draws up to 25,000 visitors during the height of summer.

A spokesman for Hastings Borough Council said: “Our lifeguard season hasn’t started yet, irrespective of lockdown, but the RNLI have indicated that they are currently working on a plan to provide cover later in the summer, we are awaiting details on when this might be. We understand that their recruitment and training has been impacted by the Covid-19 lockdown, as has the almost complete cessation of long distance travel (some of their lifeguards work in the winter in Australia, New Zealand, etc.).

“We are also very sympathetic to the plight of the RNLI lifeguards who fall outside the furlough scheme because they wouldn’t have been recruited by the required date in March. Many other seasonal workers are similarly affected, and we have made representations about this ourselves.”

A group of 600 individuals have united behind the campaign Return to Shore which is petitioning the government to include lifeguards, lifeguard supervisors and lifeguard operational assistants in the job retention scheme.

The UK Lifeguard Solidarity Group, who are behind the petition – which has been backed by the RNLI – said: “Beach Lifeguards provide essential, lifesaving cover to coastal communities and visitors around our shores. We are asking the public to sign this petition to help us #RETURNTOSHORE – ensuring the beaches around our coastlines are safely patrolled once lockdown restrictions are lifted.

“The Government Treasury have formally recognised our lifesaving role as being ‘crucial’ but have not yet made any provisions to protect it.

“The majority of seasonal beach lifeguards are not eligible for the Covid-19 Job Retention Scheme and are therefore seeking / engaged in other employment. This includes a significant number of highly qualified and experienced lifeguards who had started employment but cannot be furloughed due to the restrictive cut-off date.

“Our safety critical role will need to resume immediately once restrictions are lifted in order to prevent loss of life. This is the sole purpose of furlough, to allow essential services to resume swiftly once the restrictions lift.

“When beaches are inevitably reopened and travel restrictions loosened - domestic tourism will likely see a huge upsurge in demand. Busy beaches will have limited or no lifeguard provision at all. This could be magnified by the loss of experienced guards and the difficulty in recruiting new guards in a short time-frame.”