"The presence of our Lifeboat Station (at Teddington) is a reminder of how powerful the River is. We should all enjoy it, whether that's by walking alongside it, paddling it, sailing, rowing or even swimming in it but it deserves our respect.  Respect in the sense of being careful but also respect in the sense of being in awe".

These were the words spoken by Reverend Joe Moffat, priest in charge at the Church of St Mary with St Alban in Teddington, during the fourth annual River Blessing. Katherine Matthews, PCC Secretary of the church explained. “This is a service of thanksgiving to recognise and celebrate the importance of the River Thames to the local community, supported by many societies and organisations with a connection to the river. In normal times they not only send a representative to attend the church service but also have members gather on the river in their boats and vessels.” This year they were represented on the water by Thames Discoverer, (captained by Gunnar Christensen, also volunteer lifeboat crew),  from the thamesboatproject.org, a charity which provides access to the River Thames for people of all ages, including those with a special need, disability or mental health condition. The service was pre-recorded and is available to view here.

As part of the pre-recorded river blessing service, Reverend Joe invited Tim Ody, Teddington RNLI Lifeboat Operations Manager to chat to him about life at the Lifeboat station during lockdown. Reverend Joe said  "It is a privilege for me to be the chaplain to the Teddington Lifeboat Station. They are a great group of people, giving generously of their time, all working voluntarily. They train hard, but also have good fun together and a great sense of camaraderie."

Reverend Joe asked Tim if there had been many issues and incidents during lockdown, especially in the hot weather. Tim explained "it was an interesting period for us because when they closed the locks it meant that through-traffic on the river stopped and that really freed it up as a recreational resource. It was quite staggering to see how many people were out, with that lovely warm weather that we had at the start of the Coronavirus epidemic. I paddled out in my canoe and there were literally hundreds of people on the river banks. There were people on the beaches having picnics, there were children swimming in the river, and lots of people on inflatables, but everybody was safe because there were so many eyes on the river and I think that's why we didn't get any more shouts than normal. It's been fairly normal all the way through. We get the same number of shouts now as we did in normal times. Quite a few of them now are quite late at night as those tend to be where the police are looking for perhaps a distressed person and that's the time when the river is quiet."

Tim stressed the need to be safe on the river - to weigh up the risks and to understand the dangers. For example the water temperature even in the summer can be as low as 12C, there are hidden obstructions underwater, and part of the Thames in Teddington is tidal, with strong currents. If you do see someone in difficulty in the water, you should dial 999 and ask for the coastguard. Don't assume someone else has called for help.

During lockdown, the lifeboat crew were still able to respond to calls from members of the public via the coastguard and so far have launched the lifeboats as normal, whilst observing the need for social distancing and using appropriate PPE where possible, and including deep cleaning of the boats, crew kit and lifeboat station.

Finally, a member of the congregation of St Mary’s, Liz Stewart, wrote a short poem for the first River Blessing in 2017:

The tide In Teddington ebbs and flows
Like life itself it comes and goes
Let’s row together side by side
Knowing God’s love will be our guide.

Story courtesy of RNLI.