Lifeguards slam 'hurtful' decision after eviction from Blyth Beach home of 16 years


Blyth Beach could be without lifeguards this summer for the first time in more than six decades as the town's voluntary lifeguard organisation has been told to leave its home of 16 years.

Blyth Lifeguard & Swimming Club (BLSC) have been served an eviction notice on the Dave Stephens Centre, a building which housed a tower and training room purpose-built for lifeguards above the beach's public toilets. Previously, the centre was managed by council-run leisure provider Active Northumberland.

However, when the charity was wound up in April 2024 and Places for People took over the running of the leisure centres, the Dave Stephens Centre fell back into the control of Northumberland County Council. The council has since made a community asset transfer to Blyth Valley Enterprise Limited (BVEL), who will now maintain the building and toilets as a community amenity.

BLSC say it was a shock when they received notification that their Tenancy at Will (a property tenure that can be terminated at any time by either tenant or landlord) was due to end, initially in March. The community group has had unrestricted access to rooms to care for casualties and store safety equipment, as well as running training activities since the centre opened in 2008.

ChronicleLive has seen an offer made to BLSC which showed that the lifeguard tower would remain fully accessible to lifeguards during patrolling hours of 12:30pm - 5:30pm, but that the community room would have to be rented out. If BLSC wished to use the community room, they would have to book at an hourly rate of £15, while the medical room would be shared.

BLSC withdrew lifeguarding services until an agreement could be reached, and submitted a counter offer on June 12 which they claim was "the minimum needed to run a safe and effective service, ensuring the safety of our members and the public." However, they added that as a voluntary organisation, they were unable to commit to any financial liability.

Northumberland County Council, BVEL, and BLSC were unable to reach an agreement and last week, BLSC were given notice to end their Tenancy at Will, which had been signed under the now dissolved Blyth Valley Borough Council in 2008.

The Dave Stephens Centre on Blyth Beach
The Dave Stephens Centre on Blyth Beach -Credit:Newcastle Chronicle

Michelle Weedy, BLSC's lifeguard captain, has been lifeguarding Blyth Beach every week since she was ten years old. She told ChronicleLive that there were massive implications for the public.

Michelle said: At the minute, it's very raw and it's very hurtful. We don't just put lifeguards on the beach, it's very much training facilities.

Michelle Weedy, captain of Blyth Lifeguard and Swimming Club, at Blyth Beach
Michelle Weedy, captain of Blyth Lifeguard and Swimming Club, at Blyth Beach -Credit:Newcastle Chronicle

"We work with the young generations, we train them from the age of 10, by the time they're 16 they could have done six years at Blyth Beach learning about the sea, the conditions, the currents and the waves, how to be safe on the beach full stop. By the time they're 16, they've got an awful lot of knowledge and is sets them up with good stead with life skills.

"It's not just lifeguarding that we do, it's all the training, the social skills, and if anything we're keeping the kids of the streets. It's very much an inclusive club."

Lifeguards who patrolled Blyth Beach before they lost use of the Dave Stephens Centre
Lifeguards who patrolled Blyth Beach before they lost use of the Dave Stephens Centre -Credit:Newcastle Chronicle

An online fundraiser has been started by one of BLSC's sponsors, FSNE Medical, and at the time of writing, it has already raised more than £5,000. It is hoped that any funds raised will help volunteers to purchase new facilities, such as portacabins, to enable them to continue patrolling Blyth Beach.

Northumberland County Council confirmed that BVEL are discussing terms with other lifeguarding organisations to maintain a provision at Blyth Beach. A spokesperson for Northumberland County Council said: "The Dave Stephens Centre has been operating at a loss for some years and to ensure the site continued as an asset of community value, a decision was taken last year to look at opportunities for a Community Asset Transfer.

"Those discussion made clear at the time that this would place a responsibility on the new operator for all aspects of facilities operation, financial liabilities and risks associated with the asset. An expression of interest and subsequent full community asset transfer application and business plan was received from Blyth Valley Enterprise Limited (BVEL) to maintain the building and toilets as a community amenity. The building is now transferred.

"As part of the application and business plan, BVEL committed to work with Blyth Lifeguards and Swimming Club (BLSC) to maintain a lifeguard service and presence at South Beach operating from the Dave Stephens Centre. BVEL provided an offer to BLSC to ensure continuation of a voluntary lifeguard provision.

"However, BLSC refused to accept it and suspended all lifeguard activity until such time as a compromise or resolution could be reached. The new occupiers were willing to compromise and earlier this month all parties met to try and progress a shared usage agreement.

"However no compromise could be reached that would permit BLSC to continue to occupy the centre. Unfortunately the County Council had no choice but to terminate BLSC’s Tenancy at Will.

"The County Council is now looking at whether there are options to support BLSC with alternative accommodation and in support of Voluntary Lifeguard provision. BVEL have also confirmed that they wish to discuss terms with other lifeguarding organisations to help maintain some form of provision at Blyth Beach and those discussions are underway."