by Sam Hawcroft
After months of intense planning, the hugely anticipated inaugural Blue Light Weekend is taking place this weekend.
At the heart of the event, which was the vision of the late Withernsea RNLI operations manager Steve Medcalf, remains its mission to highlight and raise money for local emergency services.
However, thanks to the hard work of his brother Andy, fellow lifeboatman Dave Penson and their small organising committee, it has grown into a large-scale family weekend that also aims to celebrate the memory of Steve and the town he loved so dearly.
Saturday will feature the water-based attractions that Steve was keen to bring back, including the raft race and sea swims, while on Sunday people’s eyes will be drawn to the skies for the biggest air show Withernsea has ever seen.
There will be some breathtaking aerobatics from champion stunt pilot Tom Cassells, a display by Nick Lee in his wartime Tiger Moth, a flypast by a Spitfire and a Hurricane, and the Royal Navy’s parachute team will also drop in.
Much of the action at Withernsea’s Blue Light Weekend will take place on South Promenade, near the boating club and lifeboat station.
The choice of location was a conscious decision, says event co-director Andy Medcalf.
“Central Withernsea gets everything, really, and we knew there was a fairground up there in summer anyway. So, we thought, let’s use the land at the south end. It made a lot of sense for a number of reasons. Then we got together and brainstormed, and said, let’s have some stalls – and let’s invite the blue light agencies down to come and do something. We agreed just to contact everybody, tell them the story, and see who came back.”
And many of them did, very swiftly, as his brother Steve had been such a popular figure in the town. “Once you mentioned him, that was it,” says Andy. “They were all very happy to help. The sponsors were also very happy to come on board. It’s fantastic that he was so well thought of and that people wanted to help in his memory.”
The local blue light services also knew the event would be a good recruitment platform, so as well as showcasing their vehicles and equipment, they will also be bringing careers advisers and information that people can take away – a win-win for both them and the Blue Light Weekend, adds Andy.
However, the organising team were mindful of the fact that these attractions on their own would not perhaps hold people’s attention for two days, so they needed to expand the programme. Family activities such as the army tower, slackline, vintage cars and Runaround games were agreed quite early on, as was entertainment from Withernsea Ladies’ Choir and Hull’s Green Ginger Garland Dancers.
Patrington’s Sgt Dave Walker – aka Para Dave – was instrumental in securing the aerial attractions, says Andy. “He’s the stepfather of Steve’s kids, so knew us all anyway. He said he would speak to his mates in the RAF and see if we could get some planes. First it was one, and then it was two, and three – and then he was even talking about jumping out of a plane himself. When he wasn’t able to pull that together, he managed to get the Royal Navy involved.”
A couple of months ago the committee began work on firming up the final programme.
“Last year, we had one event – the sea swim in June,” says Andy, “and we thought if we could get 10 or 15 this year, that would be quite enough. But I think at the last count we have more than 70 different things happening, either events, stalls
or attractions. We expect that some may drop out before the weekend and it may not be as big as it is now, but we’ve always said that we hope this event will be the first of many. It’s been a learning curve for all of us.”
This feature continues in this week’s Gazette!