MIAB Emergency Lions

Our History

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How it all began…

The story of “Message in a Bottle”

There are various stories told about the origins of “Message in a Bottle” in the UK and the one most often heard is that a policeman in Scotland was the first person with the idea.

Mrs Nan Gairns & John Hughes in 1995

It would appear that the story told is nearly accurate but with just one slight correction. That is that he doesn’t claim to have thought up the concept, but he did, on his own initiative, start the project in his village which just grew and grew.

In 1995, John Hughes was the local bobby in Crossgates in Fife, Scotland, and in a conversation with a fellow policeman,   a crime prevention officer in Perth, some miles away to the north, John heard about the “Bottle” scheme which apparently, he was told, had been operating in Australia. John’s colleague thought that it was a good idea but he hadn’t done anything with the Bottles he had in his possession, so John acquired them himself with an idea in mind.

Whilst out on his beat in and around Crossgates, he began to give out the Bottles to people he felt were vulnerable and could benefit from one in their fridge. He told his Police colleagues, local NHS staff and the local Fire and Ambulance service staff about the way he thought the scheme should work and everyone was enthusiastic. Between these partners it was decided to offer a full safety survey of houses and to supply some small items, eg: security locks, fire alarms and the like and also to conduct a full review of any allowances or benefits to which clients might be entitled. The overall idea was to make people more secure and safer in their homes.

John decided to try to raise funds to keep the project going and he approached a local company, the Exon Cracker Plant at Mossmorren, Cowdenbeath who made a donation. Then the local Community Council in Crossgates, Social Work, Fife Council and others became involved supporting John who sourced more Bottles from a manufacturer in England. John’s police colleagues all joined in and helped to assemble the Bottles and to put in the stickers and forms, the latter having been modified by John and an extra detail or two added to make the form more useful to the Emergency services. It was John who decided that the existence of any resident pets in the home should be detailed on the form in case someone living alone was taken to hospital and was then unable to alert the paramedics about their pet.

For a period of time, John had the whole process produced locally in Inverkeithing, and at about this time, “Age Concern” and “Sense Scotland” also got involved. Further areas in the local towns of Cowdenbeath and Lochgelly ran projects also. Word was spreading and the local bobbies in Kirkcaldy and Dunfermline then began to distribute Bottles. The Community Safety Committee of Fife Council  began to promote the Bottles as part of a Fife-wide scheme which is still being called the “Fife Cares” initiative today. The Scheme originally used Film Canisters but as Film was phased out they looked at alternatives and used the current size bottle which was used to contain Pills.


The First Recipient of a “Bottle”

The photograph which accompanies this story, which was taken by a Fife Constabulary photographer around 1995, shows the late Mrs Nan Gairns of Droverhall Avenue, Crossgates, by her fridge, receiving the first “Message in a Bottle” from the then Police Constable John Hughes, Nan’s local bobby, who pioneered the scheme in Scotland.

This event marked the “official” beginning of the distribution of “Message in a Bottle” in Fife and was to be the start of the project which Lions Clubs International later adopted.


The Next Chapter

In 1999, the Secretary of Kendal Lions Club in Cumbria, the late John Dawes, saw the scheme whilst visiting Fife, and along with fellow-Lion Dennis Shaw, persuaded their colleagues to become the first Lions Club in England to promote “Message in a Bottle”. Kendal’s efforts inspired other Lions Clubs to do the same and slowly the Emergency Services in various parts of the UK became aware, involved, enthusiastic and then supportive of the scheme.

In 2004, the Lions Multiple District Convention discussed “Message in a Bottle” and it became an official ongoing Multiple District project with Lion Iain Pudney appointed to lead a team of District Officers around the country who would liaise with and motivate their Clubs locally to build the scheme nationally. This, for the most part, continues to happen today and “Message in a Bottle” has become more widely known nationally with every month that passes.

The bottles were originally acquired using the same size as bottles for Pills and were packed by the Clubs. We then arranged for HM Prisons to pack the bottles for us and in July 2014 we finalised an agreement with HM Prison Garth, near Preston, to both Manufacture the Bottles, print all necessary paperwork and pack them so that we now obtain a Pallet Load of 32 boxes of 90 Packed Bottles direct from the Prison for delivery anywhere in the UK.

The expression “From little acorns” is surely true in this instance and I believe that everyone should be very grateful that policeman John Hughes saw the life-saving potential of “Message in a Bottle” and started the ball rolling. The scheme is now well known as “The Lions Message in a Bottle Scheme”.

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