A major fundraising appeal to build a new RNLI lifeboat station in Portishead and upgrade lifesaving facilities in Weston-super-Mare has been launched.
The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) has begun the Bristol Channel RNLI fundraising appeal to raise £180,000 towards the cost of a new station at Portishead and £300,000 to improve facilities for lifeboat crews at Weston-super-Mare.
The charity has already secured planning permission to demolish the current Masonic Lodge at Pier Road and create a state-of-the-art lifeboat station.
The new building would be primarily for the storage and maintenance of the lifeboat, launching tractor and carriage and for the crew's personal protective equipment.
It would also feature modern crew changing facilities and a multi-purpose crew room for operational planning, local training and meetings.
Toilets, a small workshop and store area and a souvenir sales point would also be included in the development.
RNLI trustees have already agreed, in principle, to pursue the adoption of the Portishead and Bristol Lifeboat from the Portishead Lifeboat Trust.
The move would see the trust, which is currently based at Sugar Loaf Beach, move to the new station and come under the management of the RNLI.
The Portishead Lifeboat has been based at Sugar Loaf Beach since 1996 but the facilities are no longer suitable.
Trust chairman, John Gittings, said: "The current facilities are not really suitable and there are no toilets or showers.
"By working with the RNLI the crew will get what they deserve, which is better facilities and equipment.
"The people of Portishead and the surrounding area have always supported us and we could not have achieved what we have over the years without that support.
"We are asking them to continue their support and help us raise the money for these vital new facilities."
In Weston-super-Mare the facilities used by the RNLI, which has been based at Birnbeck Island since 1882, are deteriorating.
The pier which the crews have to run along to get to their lifeboats is in poor condition, the boats have had to be protected in a temporary 'tent' and the crew facilities do not meet modern standards.
Weston RNLI fundraising chairman, Peter Elmont, said: "The pier is in a poor state and the old slipway cannot be used so have to launch the boats using tractor units.
"The £300,000 we will be raising will get the ball rolling towards the cost of providing better new facilities."
Costings for both the projects have yet to be finalised, although tenders for the work at Portishead have now gone out and it is hoped work will start on the project in October this year.
The rest of the money needed for the projects will come from legacies, major donors and trusts which support the work of the RNLI.
RNLI divisional operations manager, Nigel Jones, said the work on both projects could not start until funds are secured.
Mr Jones said: "We don't yet know how much the new boathouse at Portishead is going to cost because we are in the tendering process right now.
"But a modern facility like this doesn't come cheap and we also know that we are going to have to make changes at Weston-super-Mare in the future. So we believe it's best to start bringing in the funds ahead of the work, giving our volunteer fundraisers a flying start during our busy summer season when there's lots of events planned around the two towns."
A series of fundraising events – including a raft race and open day – will be held over the coming months to help bolster the appeal funds.
RNLI volunteers provide a 24 hour search and rescue service around the UK and Republic of Ireland.
It operates more than 230 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and has more than 18 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK.
The RNLI is independent of the coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service.
Since it was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved 140,000 lives.