Spotlight on the county’s hard-working voluntary rescue teams

Sussex Search and Rescue SUS-160822-132400001
Sussex Search and Rescue SUS-160822-132400001

A pair of hard-working volunteers who spend their free time looking out for the safety of Sussex residents tied the knot last weekend – and the top item on the wedding wishlist was new equipment for their search and rescue charity.

Hove couple Nick Rewcastle and Hannah Dickens volunteer for Sussex Search and Rescue and are campaigning to raise £15,000.

Sussex Search and Rescue SUS-160822-132250001

Sussex Search and Rescue SUS-160822-132250001

The reason for the fundraising drive is the organisation’s radios need to be replaced by the end of the year - from analogue radios, to digital ones.

Nick said: “We are currently using analogue that is nationally being phased out, so we’ve got to switch over to digital and that costs a lot of money.”

The switch-over happens in early 2017, and although the group has already secured funding for 35 radios, it needs an additional £15,000 to buy a further 30.

But what is Sussex Search and Rescue?

Sussex Search and Rescue fundraising SUS-160822-131753001

Sussex Search and Rescue fundraising SUS-160822-131753001

Nick said: “Sussex Search and Rescue works with Sussex Police to search for vulnerable people. We can be called out at any time of day.”

There are 60 members on the team from across Sussex who can be called out at any moment to search for a missing person.

The group started when murdered schoolgirl Sarah Payne went missing in Sussex. Around 150 people got together to search for her, and decided to carry on assisting the police after the case was closed. Now the group works with Sussex Police on dozens of cases a year - but it is entirely voluntary.

Hannah and Nick volunteer outside of their day jobs; Hannah works in a pharmacy and Nick works in public relations.

Sussex Search and Rescue SUS-160822-132152001

Sussex Search and Rescue SUS-160822-132152001

“I got involved as I was a police cadet when I was younger,” said Hannah. “I wanted to give something back, as my Nan suffered from dementia, and a lot of the time we are searching for dementia patients.

“My Nan used to go wandering. For me it was like I would like to do something.”

One such incident was earlier this year, when the group were sent out to look for a missing Chichester man Leslie Collins, who was 79, and needed urgent medical attention after suffering a stroke.

Nick said: “He went missing on the Saturday morning. We did a search on Saturday and all day Sunday. Nothing was found Sunday night. The next day we got a call for another missing person.”

Hannah Dickens and Nick Rewcastle of Sussex Search and Rescue SUS-160823-093205001

Hannah Dickens and Nick Rewcastle of Sussex Search and Rescue SUS-160823-093205001

Hannah continued: “That missing person got found within two hours, so we thought we would go back and do one more search for Leslie.

“We got to Chichester University campus. We searched for 15 minutes and we found him. He was found in the bushes. His body temperature was so low the helicopter did not pick him up. Within 15 minutes he was in the back of an ambulance.

“A few weeks later he sadly passed away, but we gave him a chance to say goodbye to his family.”

The pair said they get satisfaction out of helping people - whether its reuniting a missing person with their family, or giving relatives closure. But it’s hard work, and call-outs can come at any time. Nick said: “We once got called out on Valentine’s Day.”

Hannah said: “We were going to have a chilled day and cook a nice meal and then bam.”

The pair were sent out to Newhaven to search for a missing woman. She was never found. Nick said: “We searched for a few days and then we were stood down.”

Hannah said she was called out on New Year’s Eve a couple of years ago, when a man was swept out to sea in Brighton.

“Working with the RNLI, coastguard and the police, we did a whole day of searching,” said Hannah.

The man’s body was eventually found further down the coast, and Hannah said: “We were there so he wasn’t found by a member of the public.”

When someone goes missing, police contact Sussex Search and Rescue, and a text is sent out to all volunteers to see who can make it.

The volunteers work on the ground to assist police, and Hannah said the first place to look is always the last known location of the missing person, and the search goes on from there.

Sometimes volunteers can be searching for up to nine hours, so they need good-quality kit and supplies, all paid for out of their own pockets. The group’s radios are an essential part of the operation, but as Sussex Search and Rescue is a charity, it does not receive funding from the government, police or local councils.

That’s why the pair are urging people to donate to Sussex Search and Rescue, or to set up a fundraising event to help them reach their £15,000 target by the end of the year.

To donate to Sussex Search and Rescue, visit: www.justgiving.com/searchandrescue-sussex

If you want to find out more about the charity, or organise a fundraising event, visit: www.sussar.org.

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