Yorkshire Times
Weekend Edition
Isabelle Goodhand
Features Writer
1:00 AM 5th August 2023

The Story Behind The People: Shining A Light On The Lives Of Mountain Rescue Volunteers

Vicky from North of Tyne Mountain Rescue Volunteer Team, by Dan Atkins and Tye Moxey, Helly Hansen
Vicky from North of Tyne Mountain Rescue Volunteer Team, by Dan Atkins and Tye Moxey, Helly Hansen
The Story Behind The People is a project showcasing the lives and work of mountain rescue volunteers through a series of short films.

The project was initiated by Helly Hansen, an outdoor clothing company, which has been working with volunteer teams around the world to share the personal stories of volunteers and highlight their crucial work.

One of the teams Helly Hansen has partnered with is The North of Tyne Mountain Rescue Volunteer Team, which provides search and rescue support in the Northumberland and Tyne and Wear areas. It is volunteer-run and relies solely on donations to continue its work.

As part of The Story Behind The People project, trainee volunteer, Vicky Watson, shares her experiences as part of the team through a short film.

Here, she discusses the types of incidents the team is called out to and what she enjoys about being in the mountains.

Directing and editing by Dan Atkins and photography by Tye Moxey.

Keith Briggs is the team leader for the North of Tyne team. He has served as the team leader for three years and been involved in mountain rescue work for 12.
His main responsibilities include deciding when mountain rescue teams should be deployed and ensuring all other officers carry out their duties.

He describes his experience as part of the team:

It’s very satisfying and rewarding when I know that I have helped make the difference for someone in distress… sometimes altering what could be life threatening or changing circumstances.

The North of Tyne Mountain Rescue Team works seven days a week, 365 days a year. They are made up of over 40 qualified members and a number of trainees. 

The team was formed in the 1970s, when climbing and hiking became more popular outdoor activities. This led to an increase in the number of accidents occurring on the hills and fells of Northumbria.

Over the last year, the most common reasons for callouts have been walkers falling due to difficult terrain and disorientation in the mountains, leading to individuals getting lost.

Keith said:

I have probably attended 200–300 callouts over the last 12 years, and some I do remember well. Those long stretcher carries in bad weather are always memorable! Some of the more unpleasant injuries to deal with are also up there, one particularly from a fallen climber who we had to winch to a coast guard helicopter.

In the last nine months, the team has been called out to over 30 incidents and has dedicated a total of 430 hours to search and rescue missions. 

Keith added:
It’s incredibly important, as in the UK there are only limited professional paid services to undertake some of the work we do, particularly if the weather is poor enough to stop helicopter deployments and in remote areas where police and ambulance services would be overwhelmed.

Helly Hansen has been working with the team for the last two years to highlight the work they deliver.

They have also created Mountain Rescue Responder Uniforms for the volunteers, which are specifically suited to the unique UK temperatures, weather, and landscape.

Piers Barnes, Helly Hansen’s General Manager for the UK and Ireland, said: "Helly Hansen has a tremendous amount of respect for mountain rescue teams and their volunteers. We know that it is trust that makes saving lives possible, trust in your team, your environment, and your kit. We are proud to be part of that and to be supporting those who willingly risk their own lives to help others."

The Story Behind the People project is part of the wider ‘Open Mountain Month’ initiative, which took place in June.

‘Open Mountain Month’ aims to encourage people to get outdoors and into the mountains. By sharing the stories of mountain volunteers, Helly Hansen hopes to inspire others to begin climbing or hiking.

As part of the campaign, the brand has also shared their advice on staying safe in the mountains and their favourite routes across the UK. 

Helly Hansen was first established in 1877 after sea captain Helly Juell Hansen and his wife Margreth launched their business selling waterproof, sea-worthy clothing. 

Now, they are the number one apparel brand for ski professionals and a leading Scandinavian workwear brand. 

Alongside their work with The North of Tyne Mountain Rescue Volunteer Team, Helly Hansen has also worked with members of the Arrochar Mountain Rescue Team in the Scottish Highlands.

Similarly to North of Tyne’s Team, the Story Behind the People project shares the experiences of members of the Scottish team to promote the importance of their work. 

By offering personal insight into the lives of mountain volunteer team members, Helly Hansen also hopes to share meaningful stories of those who love the outdoors, encouraging others to do the same.