Bristol Bears and Bath Rugby come together for #MatesMatter

Bristol Bears and Bath Rugby have put their local rivalry aside to support Avon Fire & Rescue Service’s (AF&RS) new water safety campaign - #MatesMatter.

The move comes as AF&RS hopes to half the number of water fatalities in the Service area by 2026.

More than 260 people died in British waterways last year, more than those who died in fires, and the Service has been called to 66 water-related incidents in the last two years, with six fatalities.

To tackle this, AF&RS are calling for mates to look after each other and celebrate friendships on a night out.

Friends, colleagues and families will often look after each other on a day to day basis, so the Service is asking this to continue into a night out.

Targeting predominately men aged between 18 and 29 years old, the Service is hoping that those enjoying Bristol on a night out will stay safe near the water with the help of friends.

And nothing epitomises teamwork better than Bristol Bears and Bath Rugby – both are teams close on and off the pitch with players looking after each other in all aspects of life.

Kirstie Webb, Risk Reduction Department Manager for AF&RS, said: “Mates Matter – that’s the message we are trying to get across. In all aspects of life, we work as a team on a daily basis - whether in work, as a family or simply in our friendship groups - and we want to people to keep that mentality on nights out.

“We all want the best for our mates and will do what we can to protect them. But for some reason, that seems to end on a night out with individuals getting separated from groups or leaving alone at the end of the night.

“Mates matter, so we are asking people to make sure they ensure their friends are safe around water. Simple things like walking them home a different route avoiding the water’s edge or making sure you stay as a group can make a huge difference.

“It’s also been great to work with Bristol Bears and Bath Rugby; we are hoping that their support will really help to highlight this message and we thank them for their support on this.

“Every time we lose a life in the water it hurts us a Service and we want to see these unnecessary fatalities come to an end.”

Along with the #MatesMatter campaign, AF&RS has also been working with pubs and clubs along the Bristol waterfront to deliver water safety training for staff who may be able to act as first responders.

The course, which consists of a presentation and a practical session, is aimed at door supervisors, managers and staff at clubs, bars and pubs around the dock area.

The course focuses on raising awareness, the hazards around the docks and the effects of cold water on a casualty.

Delivered by firefighters, the practical session involves throwline training from the bank to secure a casualty in the water.

The Service is also working with the Bristol Water Safety Partnership to minimise risk by producing a risk assessment of the harbour, working with the council on standardised signage and life rings, and raising awareness where possible.

In Bath, firefighters are taking part in regular patrols with the street pastors and SARAID, and are delivering water safety training to pubs, clubs and the police.

Alongside Risk Reduction, they are also working on education with the universities, Bath BID and the Bath River Safety Forum.  

Kirstie added: “Along with raising awareness on the issue with Mates Matter and our work with the two rugby clubs, we are also approaching this from a prevention, protection and resilience approach.

“As a Service, we are ambitious and always striving to improve how we approach and tackle water-related incidents. While we would like to see no one enter the water at all, the more resources and support we have in place allows us to better respond when it does happen.

“If people enter the water, we have a golden window in which to respond, so having pub or club staff immediately on the scene, our resources better placed and the support of other local organisations only improves the chance of survival.

“Again though, Mates Matter. If people are able to look after their friends on a night out – putting them in a taxi, not leaving them outside a club, walking home together – we know we can make a real difference.”

Shula Smith, Head of Communications at Bath Rugby, said: "We would like to thank Avon Fire and Rescue for bringing our Clubs together to help share this important message.  The water rescue campaign is creating awareness of a very real issue and we hope that someone, somewhere hears our message that mates matter."

Nick Fenton-Wells, from Bristol Bears Team Manager, added: “We are delighted to be part of this new campaign by Avon Fire and hope it can help make a real difference in the community. We know that our players are role models in the community and they are all passionate about helping to improve it.

“On and off the pitch, we know that Mates Matter. Whether you have the weight of 14 other players on your shoulders on the pitch, or its bonding on a day to day basis, everyone looks after each other. We hope that by showing how much Mates Matter, people will take that into their daily lives and continue to look after each other on a night out.

“We’ve seen in the news when people have tragically lost their lives in the water so anything we can do to help is a positive. Mates Matter, so let’s stamp out unnecessary fatalities in the water.”