Student Volunteering Week 2021: Combining coastguard and studying commitments

This Student Volunteering Week 2021, taking place from 8th – 14th February, we're shining the spotlight on Olivia Letchford, who is not only a volunteer Coastguard Rescue Officer with our Hayling Island Coastguard Rescue Team but also a second year student, studying at the University of Portsmouth.

Olivia, 20, joined the coastguard in January of last year – following in the footsteps of her dad, Martin, who has been a volunteer with the coastguard for over 25 years and also worked in various other roles with Her Majesty’s Coastguard. 

With the ongoing COVID-19 situation, Olivia has spent much of the past year – like many people – working remotely; in her case studying as part of her Higher National Diploma (HND) in Business course.

Whilst studying from home can have its limitations, Olivia has managed to get out and about with her coastguard commitments.

“Last year – like this year, too – was challenging for everyone and it was a bit of a balancing act for me," said Olivia, who has also been a member of the Portsmouth and Southsea Voluntary Lifeguards Club for six years.

“Not only was I studying online for my course, I was also involved in mutual aid and high readiness patrols every weekend in the summer with the coastguard, and it was extremely busy with a high number of call-outs.”

The need to keep excellent time management skills has been really important for Olivia, who – along with her Coastguard Rescue Officer colleagues at Hayling Island Coastguard Rescue Team – more than played their part to help keep the public safe at the coast in what was HM Coastguard’s busiest-ever summer on record, UK-wide, for incident numbers in 2020.

Olivia said: “With the good weather we had and heatwaves, we tended to have at least one call-out a day in the summer – which, for me, meant a few late nights trying to get my university work done! It was all worth it in the end though as it meant I was still able to be a volunteer Coastguard Rescue Officer – which is something I absolutely love doing.

“Luckily, the majority of our call-outs that required an instant response were during the summer break between the end of my first year and start of my second year.”

Last month, Olivia marked one year with the coastguard as a volunteer and entered the final months of her two-year university course.

“There have obviously been less call-outs in the winter months, giving me more time to focus on my university work, which has increased in its overall workload,” she said. “Even though we’re expecting more activity at the coast in the coming months as the weather warms up, it has been a manageable balance for me and a good experience to combine studying and time spent down at the coastguard station.”

Olivia added: “I’d like to thank my Course Leader and Lecturers who have all been really accommodating, ensuring that I don’t miss out on anything or fall behind.”

Day-to-day, Olivia – along with friend and fellow Coastguard Rescue Officer, Laura Jurgens (pictured above), also run the Hayling Island Coastguard Rescue Team Facebook page – which involves daily interaction with the local community when it comes to sharing valuable information, providing incident updates and posting about HM Coastguard safety messages.

“Our social media channels are really important for us to engage with our followers and keep people up-to-date with coastguard activity. It’s an added extra to our role but we really enjoy doing it, with the main goal of making people aware of the dangers at the coast so that they can enjoy themselves safely and responsibly.”

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