Women in Mountain Rescue: Judy Whiteside
Womenclimb recognises the importance that Mountain Rescue volunteers play in ensuring that climbers and hillwalkers are educated and safe when enjoying the outdoors. Womenclimb want to encourage more interested women to see Mountain Rescue as something they can get involved in.
We caught up with Judy Whiteside, from Mountain Rescue England & Wales to chat about her involvement in the Rossendale & Pendle team, how she got involved in the national charity and what she gets out of being involved.
Judy joined Rossendale & Pendle MRT as a supporter 20 years ago and served for 7 years as their team secretary. She’s been involved with the national organisation for about 17 years.
I have always had huge admiration for those who go out at any time of the day or night, in atrocious conditions and challenging terrain, to help their fellow human beings. It’s a different sort of passion to those who go out there and do the job but I certainly do still feel passionate about telling their stories to the world, raising awareness and funds in the process.
In 2001, I was invited to develop a magazine for MREW. As a professional designer and writer, this was right up my street. The magazine has continued to flourish and grow, going out to supporters across the UK. Having a broad overview of the organisation through the magazine has enabled me to support mountain rescue in both publicity and fundraising.
I’m involved with other MREW publications and I wrote the copy for the latest version of the MREW website. In 2015 I co-authored ‘Mountain Rescue’ and was also commissioned to write the story of Ogwen Valley MRO for their 50th anniversary year. The book, ‘Risking Life and Limb’, was published towards the end of 2015 and won the TGO Book of the Year Award 2016 – a huge honour.
How do you fit the commitment around your work and family life?
Mountain rescue is a huge part of my life – even as what would be termed a ‘support member’ – dealing with submissions for the magazine, writing articles and generally fielding enquiries. The Ogwen book in particular involved spending a great deal of time interviewing some fascinating people. I’m not sure I would have any spare time for actual rescues!! That said there are so many more aspects to the modern mountain rescue service – and demands on team members’ time is ever-increasing. It’s great to be able to support the organisation as a whole, to better enable them to do what they do.
I live in Cumbria now and my husband is a member of Cockermouth MRT, so mountain rescue is very much part of our daily life. It’s interesting to me how the ‘other halves’ deal with living with a rescue team member, especially where young families are involved. Many a family plan has been interrupted by the pager! You get used to just getting on with things!
What do you think of Mountain Rescue?
I think the thing that most strikes me is the nature and character of mountain rescuers themselves. I have always been fascinated by the early pioneers, who sought better treatment for injured climbers and walkers in the hills – not least Wilson Hey who battled the government of his day for the right of casualties to pain relief during what could be very lengthy rescue operations. These were the days before helicopter rescue. That commitment, that sense of innovation, community spirit and proud voluntarism is still as strong today, despite the demands on teams to respond to incidents, keep their skills up to date, look after paperwork etc.
What’s the most memorable thing you’ve done with Mountain Rescue?
I think one of my most memorable times was when a friend and I (she was also an RPMRT member at the time) decided to walk the Coast to Coast. What started out as a holiday, turned into a two-week adventure and PR campaign, linking up with the mountain rescue teams along the way whose patches crossed out route. It helped raise awareness through local radio and national TV but, more importantly, we raised £3500 towards the then fledgling Mountain and Cave Rescue Benevolent Fund – its first donation – and I am now a trustee of that fund.
We set up the fund because, what happens when the rescuer needs rescuing? And in the first couple of years we’ve helped a handful of team members back to fitness – and active duty – from injuries sustained whilst on rescue call-outs.
What’s been the most difficult thing for you during the time you’ve been involved in Mountain Rescue?
Despite not being involved in the operational side of a team I have undergone basic team training and casualty care training whilst a member of Rossendale and Pennine MRT which enabled me to fully understand what team members go through. On one occasion, the team was called to a gentleman who had fallen in a local quarry, sustaining fatal injuries. We trainees were treated with compassion and concern, both during and after the event, by more experienced team members but it was a salutary lesson in ‘the sharp end’ of rescue.
If someone would like to get involved but aren’t sure they have enough experience or knowledge what would you say?
People often do approach me about joining mountain rescue. I always encourage them to approach their local team. There are 48 teams across England and Wales and many have very different entry criteria, depending on the nature of incidents and terrain they regularly deal with. Some teams are also a good deal busier than others. Joining a team is a big commitment in time and energy – and can also be a strain on the individual rescuer’s wallet. Even dedicated team members can struggle with the work/life/rescue balance and life circumstances are ever-changing.
I would always say give it a go! Team members are a richly diverse bunch of individuals, but when that call-out comes, their teamwork is second to none: professional, efficient, compassionate. There’s a unique brand of humour too and friendships are forged for life.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
A lot of people have asked me over the years why I’m still involved. As I don’t get to go on call-outs, they reason, how can I possibly get that ‘buzz’ of being out there, helping others, often in very risky circumstances, and often in the dark!
Well, I get that buzz from doing my job as well as I can, helping communications, making people outside understand that this is a 24/7 service provided completely by volunteers. Ordinary people like you and me who dedicate their lives to saving others. If I can turn a phrase or write a story and see it resonating with the person in front of me or the person reading my book, know that it’s made a difference to their perception of mountain rescue, that’s my buzz, right there.
If you want to find out more about joining a Mountain Rescue Team visit www.mountain.rescue.org.uk to find your local team.