A South Uist coastguard volunteer who ‘embodies everything good’ about the service has been named today (Thursday 2 February) as the UK’s volunteer of the year by the chief executive of His Majesty’s Coastguard.
Chris is a member of Lochboisdale coastguard rescue team (CRT) and is also station officer at Lochboisdale, as was his father Len Steele before him.
In his day job he works for Cothrom, and the community interest company’s strong ethos also flows through his daily life.
He was nominated for the award by HM Coastguard coastal area commander Murdo Macaulay following the extreme flooding in South Uist in November, when he went ‘above and beyond’ in his duties.
Murdo said: “I nominated Chris for the volunteer of the year award on account of his dedication to not only HM Coastguard but also to his work within the community.
“During the latter half of 2022 Chris went above and beyond in his duties and in doing so demonstrated everything that is great about HM Coastguard – earning us praise externally from Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, the community in South Uist and media coverage.
“Kildonan in South Uist had become cut off from the rest of the island due to flooding between 13 and 19 November. The doctor was unable to leave Kildonan to attend his patients, elderly patients were unable to get to hospital appointments and children were unable to access the main bus services to take them to school.
“With no other services able to assist, due to lack of 4x4 vehicles, a request was made to HM Coastguard to safely effect transfers in and out of Kildonan and keep it connected to the remainder of the island.
“This task was passed to Chris and every day during this period Chris juggled multiple drives through flooded roads to ensure that everyday life could continue for the residents of Kildonan.
“He took great pride in doing this, organising schedules and ensuring that everyone had everything they needed, while plant and machinery was contracted to clear the flooded roads.
“He worked around his own schedule at Cothrom and around a large-scale missing person search from 14 – 16 involving all Uist teams, of which he was also part, in addition to the now critical movements in and out of Kildonan.
“This is of course, in addition to the work Chris did during 2022 for HM Coastguard and his community during the Covid lockdowns and vaccination clinics.
“He was an integral part of supporting these as part of our mutual aid to NHS Western Isles and the day-to-day search and rescue responses through the year.
“Chris embodies everything good about HM Coastguard – and why we are not only an emergency service and category one responder, but also an integral part of our community.”
One local resident gave her own accolade supporting Chris, after Sgoil Dhalabroig posted their thanks to HM Coastguard when the floods subsided.
She said: “We can’t thank Chris Steele from Lochboisdale Coastguard enough for his help this week, without him our children may have missed a full week of school.
“We’re often guilty of taking these special people in our communities for granted, it’s not until we need them that we truly appreciate how selflessly they give up their own time to help others.
Our children were extremely excited to be picked up by the coastguard, it was the quickest they’ve ever got ready for school! Our son’s super-hero party had to be postponed twice because of the flooding, but he’s very happy as he had his own real life superhero come to his rescue!”
Chris is to receive his HM Coastguard volunteer of the year award from divisional commander Bill Speirs at a presentation to be arranged in the coming weeks.
The pictures show Chris and his school run during flooding in Kildonan (Sgoil Dhalabroig).