If you were told that the RNLI operates out of two main centres on the island of Ireland - can you guess where they are?
Dublin is one and the other is....Ballymoney!
The main aim of the charity, the RNLI, is saving lives at sea but the Ballymoney premises near the Joey Dunlop Leisure Centre is one of the centres from which the Royal National Lifeboat Institution also operates training, education and maintenance programmes.
The RNLI’s beach lifeguard service is run from the Ballymoney hub and the highly trained lifeguards patrol a total of ten beaches on the north coast and in County Down.
With four full time staff working on the Ballymoney site, Lifeguard manager Mike Grocott took the Ballymoney Times on a tour of the centre and explained exactly what happens there.
“Many people do find it odd that the RNLI have a base in Ballymoney as it’s not on the coast and we often get jokes about it not being a traditional seaside area.
“However when we were looking for a site, the transport links here were just right.
“Plus we are so close to the Joey Dunlop Leisure Centre which is really useful for our lifeguard service training as well as fitness testing.
“Before we moved here we operated out of the Acorn Business Park but these premises work really well.
“When we were looking for a location there was nowhere on this size available at the time and it would have been too expensive to build so when these premises became available, it was perfect.
“The centre here operates the lifeguard service, flood assistance and maintenance for all RNLI stations in Ireland.
“People perhaps don’t realise what goes on here. As well as supporting the lifeguard service, there is so much more too.
“For example two of the full time staff here are going to Lough Swilly soon to provide first aid training.
“We also support the lifeguard service on all beaches as far down as Newry, we advise on coastal risk, we will assist local councils with Blue Flag status and provide risk assessment on beaches as well as delivering our education programmes such as ‘Hit the Surf’ and ‘Meet the Lifeguard.”
The RNLI offers the education service to 158 schools throughout Northern Ireland.
The education programme is free to all schools and fits into the curriculum.
The Ballymoney base is also home to the systems technicians who are responsible for maintaining and repairing anything from the large lifeboat in Portrush harbour to a jet ski.
The centre has also hosted visits from local Ballymoney groups such as the scouts and guides.
With the flood team also operating from the Ballymoney base, this means that the staff can be deployed anywhere in the province to assist.
Just recently the flood team from Ballymoney was sent to Dungannon to assist the Fire and Rescue Service with flood relief.
“The flood kit is stored here and the team muster from here to go anywhere in Northern Ireland, we store the only flood asset in Northern Ireland.”
Being part of the RNLI is far from a 9-5 job.
“There is always an ‘on call’ element to the job for example for the flood teams who can be deployed anywhere.
“During the summer, lifeguard support is offered from 11am - 7pm and the technical team can be called out at any time to repair equipment anywhere in Northern Ireland.”