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Retiring volunteer fundraiser, Joan Tanner, is presented with a certificate and gifts. Left to right are: St Ives RNLI chairman, Mike Hicks; area lifesaving manager, Guy Botterill; Joan Tanner; tractor driver, Peter Tanner; coxswain, Rob Cocking; fundraising chair, Emileen Williams; and mechanic, Robin Langford. Photograph: Niki Brooks/RNLI

Without volunteers there would be no RNLI, and it was a special day on Saturday when the St Ives branch of the charity 32 years of service from Joan Tanner.

Volunteers make up 95% of the organisation, and no-one embodies the true meaning of giving more so than Joan and her family, where the lifeboat has very much been present through the generations.

Born in St Ives, Joan grew up with the lifeboat. It was very much a part of day-to-day life, so it seemed natural that when she met her husband, John, he was an embedded member of St Ives RNLI. At his time of retirement, he had clocked up 44 years of voluntary service. Marrying John was the beginning of Joan’s active fundraising volunteer career.

She said: “Really, I was involved for 57 years with the lifeboat. I would wake up with my husband when the rockets went off to launch the lifeboat, and I would often drive him down.

“But once the children were a little older, it was natural for me to take a more formal voluntary role, so I joined in 1987 what was known then as the Ladies’ Guild. I started as a committee member. It was very different then — we fundraised door to door, had tea and coffee mornings, and over time we started to sell Christmas cards and the odd souvenir.”

Fundraising has changed significantly over the years, and as Joan started with St Ives RNLI as a committee member, her roles changed too. Over a number of years, she fulfilled many different positions, from box secretary to vice-chair and finally chair of the Fundraising team which, at the age of 78, she has just stepped down from.

Joan Tanner fundraising
Joan fundraising with RNLI mascot, Stormy Sam. Photograph: Joan Tanner

Joan’s family, from her late father-in-law and late husband, to sons and daughter, have all held or currently hold active roles within the RNLI. She said: “The lifeboat is very much a part of our lives. Even holidays, when the children were young, were organised around which lifeboat stations we were going to visit as a family.

“That’s if we actually managed to get the car and children packed up and off on holiday. Quite often we would be packed ready to go and the lifeboat was needed. My husband would rush off to launch the lifeboat. Its now my son Peter Tanner doing that — he has recently celebrated 30 years’ service as well. My daughter, Suzanne Tanner, has also been involved on the fundraising team as current fundraising manager for St Ives RNLI. She has also given around 15 years’ service, so you see it’s been in all of my family’s lives, and continues to be so.”

While Joan steps down and retires from her role as chair of fundraising, she still cares passionately about the lifeboat. Her extensive fundraising activities have enabled crews to always respond to the call for help, and to continue to save lives at sea.

Being a volunteer is a real commitment. Joan said: “You really have to care, be passionate, be prepared to give, get involved, and whatever the needs were, we met them and ensured that we could raise the money our station needed to help anyone out on the sea in distress.

“It’s been a lifetime commitment, and I have done it out of love for the lifeboat, as have my family — we have always given. I know that as I retire from my role, it’s in safe hands, with a great fundraising team that really cares.”

Guy Botterill, area lifesaving manager for the RNLI, said: “It’s rare you meet someone like Joan Tanner. She has, without doubt, given above and beyond to the RNLI, and we cannot thank her enough for her service.”

Joan was presented with a certificate for her service, flowers, and a gift, as well as extensive and heartfelt thanks for all she has given to St Ives RNLI over the many years. Her contributions have been immeasurable.