Q&A: Weston RNLI's lifeboat operations manager talks new station and building relationships
PUBLISHED: 08:00 06 April 2019
Weston RNLI’s new leader has experienced the ‘busiest year to date’ with big steps being taken towards a new lifeboat station.
Mike Buckland, aged 44, has been on the crew for more than 20 years after fulfilling a life-long dream to join the charity.
He is now the station’s lifeboat operations manager (LOM) and has successfully completed his first year in the role.
Reporter Eleanor Young sat down with Mike to talk about his time in charge so far and where he sees the station’s future going.
How long have you been with the service?
I took over from Richard Spindler, also known as Spin, in March last year when I was 19 years in.
The unusual thing about me is I am an afloat-going LOM, of which there is only one or two others in the country.
The rules we work around is that if I authorise the launch then I can’t helm the boat, which is from a safety perspective.
You have two different levels of authority on the boat because there are then two different mind-sets thinking about each job, what is the right thing to do and why.
When I applied for the job, I wasn’t willing to give my place up on the boat. I still have 10 years on the boat. I was willing to take on the role but didn’t want to give up what I love.
Why did you join the RNLI?
I had this boyhood fascination with the big red doors over on Birnbeck Island and dreamed of being part of the team.
I finished school and moved away for a bit and then came back and I bought my first house here when I decided to stay.
I knew a few people at the RNLI and asked what I had to do and they told me to write a letter to the boss and ask if I could join, now here I am. I haven’t looked back and 20 years have flown by.
What was on your wish list for things to achieve when you took over?
I made a point of meeting with every team member for 20 minutes.
Over a month, I asked them our biggest strengths, where we needed to improve, where they saw their career with the RNLI going and what they expected from me.
It gave me a huge amount of feedback, you see some common themes that something needs work then I started to understand what was flicking their switch – what made them want to turn up or equally not want to.
I wanted to improve the relationship between the fundraising team and the crew and improve communication as a whole.
I no longer hear people saying ‘well I didn’t know that’ because they are kept well-informed of what is going on.
How has your first year in charge gone?
It has flown by, we have been massively busy and had a record year for shouts – with 62 compared to last year’s 53.
We have had some good jobs among them as well as some tragedies, including in our own team. It has been a real mix of highs and lows.
A huge tick in the box has been that we now have a site for our new station and things are moving in a positive direction – but there are still loads of hurdles to still jump over.
We have been in no man’s land for so long regarding the station so it was amazing to deliver that news to the team.
Over the past year we have built a strong relationship with the headquarter’s team which is really positive. Hopefully it will continue in a good direction but we are still a long way off.
Where do you see the future of the Weston RNLI going?
We are naming our new lifeboat in May which is exciting and there are some key milestones with the new lifeboat station project.
We have had, over the past 12 months, one new helmsman pass and this year we will have a new D-class helm passing and an Atlantic helm as well.
I have to ensure we have got enough crew, look to see if people are developing and who is possibly going to have to come off the boat in five years time because they are too old.
I committed to the crew I would do three years and then see how we go.
I couldn’t do what I do without the support of my wife Debbie and also my two children, Jack and Emma.
I am very lucky to have the support of a great team and have a strong relationship with the fundraising team – we are now ‘one station’.