RNLI opens ‘first of its kind’ visitor centre on Barry Island

Race against the clock to kit up in time for an emergency RNLI lifeboat launch; get to grips with the second highest tidal range in the world or find out how lifeguards help a lost child find their family on the beach.


A young guest taking a look at an RNLI D class lifeboat


These are just some of the things in store for the first guests through the doors at a newly opened RNLI visitor centre which is the first in the country dedicated specifically to keeping kids safer at the beach.

The RNLI’s Barry Island Visitor Centre  was officially opened today (Friday 31 March), giving invited guests a first glimpse at its range of interactive displays and activities aimed at keeping the public safe in and around local waters.


Sonia Modray, RNLI Trustee and Julie Sanby Visitor Experience Manager at the Barry Island Visitor Centre


From tomorrow (Saturday 1 April) the centre will open its doors to the public and the RNLI charity hopes between 20,000 and 30,000 people will drop in throughout the summer.

The visitor centre, which is in the former tourist information centre on Paget Street above Whitmore Bay, is one of only two RNLI visitor centres anywhere in the UK not at a lifeboat station and is the first prevention led visitor centre specifically aiming to reduce drowning and incidents in or around the water.

Children will be able to get a flavour of what it’s like to be an RNLI lifeboat crew member by hopping into a D class inshore lifeboats while hearing inspirational rescue stories from volunteers. There are also bilingual games and displays aimed at teaching youngsters about the specific dangers of the waters around Barry Island, including a tide tank highlighting the huge tidal range of the Bristol Channel, which is second only in the world to the Bay of Fundy in Canada.

There are also spot the danger games, where youngsters can identify rip currents and other sea hazards and a chance to kit up a lifeboat crew member quick enough to make a rescue launch.

Colin Jones, Barry Dock RNLI Deputy Launching Authority, Sonia Modray, RNLI Trustee, The Mayor of Barry Councillor Charlotte Williams, Jane Hutt AM and Alun Cairns MP, with the Barry Dock RNLI lfeboat crew attend the visitor centre opening ceremony.


Julie Sanby, RNLI Visitor Experience Manager, said: ‘This is a hugely exciting day for the RNLI as this is the charity’s first visitor centre anywhere in the UK specifically dedicated to drowning prevention and keeping people safe in and around the waters of the local area.

‘The RNLI’s vision is to end preventable loss of life at sea and we hope the centre will build upon the safety education and drowning prevention work already being done in the area by Barry Dock Lifeboat station volunteers and our lifeguard teams.

‘Many of the families who visit Whitmore Bay don’t have a lot of coastal experience. We hope families who visit the centre will learn key safety tips and be better equipped to enjoy the area’s beautiful coastline safely and know what to do if they do get into trouble.’

Around 100 people were expected to attend today’s official opening, where the Mayor of Barry Councillor Charlotte Williams and RNLI Trustee Sonia Modray cut the ribbon on the building. There was also music from The Chords choir.

Helen Church, RNLI Community Safety Partner for Wales, said: ‘The RNLI’s lifeboat crews and lifeguards proudly deliver a world class rescue service. However, we understand that to meet our objective of halving the number of preventable drownings by our target date of 2024, we must also strive to educate and influence our communities.

‘The Barry Visitor Centre is the first in its kind to be specifically dedicated to drowning prevention and safety education and has created a fantastic opportunity for the RNLI to promote safer behaviours by engaging with local residents and visitors in a unique learning environment.’

The centre will be open every day throughout the summer, initially between noon and 4pm and is free to enter. The building also has a fully kited out meeting room that can be used by the local community.

RNLI lifeguards will be on duty at Whitmore Bay on Barry Island over the Easter Bank Holiday weekend, then every weekend from 29 April until May 27, when their summer daily safety service begins.

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Nathan Spackman

Nathan is the Operations Manager at Bro Radio. You'll occasionally find him with our street team and hosting at local events as well as presenting our facebook live videos.