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Howard's way

Working lives Profile

Howard Richings has spent 15 years at the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. It's not made him rich, but he's very happy.

Next week RNLI estates manager Howard Richings will be showing Her Majesty the Queen round the new lifeboat college in Poole (see news) which provides a dramatically improved training centre for the crews who save the lives of stranded swimmers and sailors throughout the year. If she asks him whether he enjoys his role, she will get a very positive response. Richings has been with the RNLI since 1989 and seems to have lighted on one of the best jobs in the whole of civil engineering.

The 55 year old ICE Fellow is responsible for managing and developing the RNLI's property assets - valued in excess of £250M. This includes a £12M a year building and civil engineering programme of capital and maintenance works at 230 plus lifeboat stations around the coasts of the UK and Republic of Ireland.

And Richings is in charge of facilities for beach lifeguards, sited by the some of the best stretches of sand and surf the UK can provide.

'The job offers endless satisfaction, ' he says. 'I'm helping provide support to an essential emergency organisation and practising my profession in the challenging and often beautiful locations in which lifeboat stations are located. Knowing that the end results are of practical value and appreciated, is the best bit of all!'

Richings has a staff of 20 helping him in his role, which he has developed since he joined the RNLI with a brief to develop a new department.

He trained in civil engineering at Portsmouth, graduating in 1971, and moved swiftly into the field of maritime engineering. 'I learned the basic essentials of coast defence design through the trials and tribulations of an assistant engineer, trudging back and forth over Calback Ness in Shetland carrying out 1,500 peat probes as a prelude to construction of the Sullom Voe oil terminal, ' he remembers. He then had 12 years working overseas on port and harbour projects before opting to join the RNLI.

It has not all been plain sailing.

While there have been few bad experiences at a professional level, Richings has found himself in some hairy situations. He was shaken awake in El Salvador in 1975 by an earthquake that killed 25,000 people, and shipwrecked on a coral reef in Sumatra but luckily rescued by a passing fishing boat. He was also given a harsh reminder of the dangers of the UK's coastline when he was swept off a Cornish breakwater with a colleague as they went in search of a photograph of a completed lifeboat station. 'That the water was cold mattered much less than the fact that it was there to cushion the fall, ' he remembers. 'And was I wearing safety equipment? Yes, steel soled safety boots!' The RNLI did not have to be called to his rescue, he stresses.

Richings' experiences have given him a greater understanding of the differences in lifestyles, values and aspirations around the world, he says. 'And it has made me cynical about the way certain types of aid monies are expended.

I'm also far less tolerant of those who complain of the shortcomings of the UK's infrastructure. First hand experience of the subsistence existence of people in some other countries helps put the gripes and grumbles often heard in our comfortable world into perspective.'

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