Remembering the 125th anniversary of the world’s first charity street collection
This Monday (10 October) sees the 125th anniversary of the first ever charity street collection, which took place in Manchester on behalf of the RNLI on Saturday 10 October 1891.
Sir Charles Macara organised the collection after witnessing the RNLI’s worst ever lifeboat disaster five years earlier, when 27 men died in an attempt to rescue the crew of the stricken German barque Mexico during a violent gale off the Lancashire coast.
RNLI volunteers launched from Lytham St Annes and Southport but tragically the Eliza Fernley from Southport and Laura Janet from Lytham St Annes capsized and 27 lifeboat crew members drowned, leaving 16 widows and 50 fatherless children. Lytham’s Charles Biggs lifeboat launched on her maiden rescue and saved all 12 of Mexico’s crew.
A disaster fund raised £30,000 for the families of those lost but Macara wanted to do more. He discovered RNLI finances were low, with over two-thirds of the charity’s income coming from just a handful of wealthy people, so he decided to hold ‘a grand cavalcade to make the public at large aware of the service provided by the brave volunteer lifeboat men and the need for widespread financial support’.
The Manchester collection was supported by an impressive parade through the city, when 30,000 people lined the streets to watch bands, colourful floats and two horse-drawn lifeboats. Charles’s wife Marion, with many of her friends, went along the crowds collecting money and Charles arranged for lifeboat crew members to carry sacks on long poles to reach those watching from windows and the tops of buses and trams.
Hayley Whiting, RNLI Heritage Archive and Research Manager, said: ‘The first Lifeboat Saturday was hugely influential and changed charity fundraising forever. Before that, fundraising used to be quite private, and charities tended to approach only influential people and wealthy philanthropists. This was different - ordinary people were being asked to help, and were clearly happy to do so.’
Lifeboat Saturday with its street collection didn’t just help to shape the RNLI’s fundraising techniques, but also charities around the world. Street collections have since formed a regular and vital source of charity income today.
Key facts about the RNLI
The Royal National Lifeboat Institution is the charity that saves lives at sea. Our volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service in the United Kingdom and Ireland from 238 lifeboat stations, including four along the River Thames and inland lifeboat stations at Loch Ness, Lough Derg, Enniskillen and Lough Ree. Additionally the RNLI has more than 1,000 lifeguards on over 240 beaches around the UK and operates a specialist flood rescue team, which can respond anywhere across the UK and Ireland when inland flooding puts lives at risk.
The RNLI relies on public donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. As a charity it is separate from, but works alongside, government-controlled and funded coastguard services. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824 our lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved at least 140,000 lives. Volunteers make up 95% of the charity, including 4,600 volunteer lifeboat crew members and 3,000 volunteer shore crew. Additionally, tens of thousands of other dedicated volunteers raise funds and awareness, give safety advice, and help in our museums, shops and offices.
Learn more about the RNLI
Contacting the RNLI - public enquiries
Members of the public may contact the RNLI on 0300 300 9990 or by email.
The RNLI is a charity registered in England and Wales (209603) and Scotland (SC037736). Charity number 20003326 in the Republic of Ireland