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MBEs for divers who became Sea-Changers

Sea-Changers Helen Webb (left) and Rachel Lopata at a new water fountain on the Lincolnshire coast
Helen Webb (left) and Rachel Lopata at a new water fountain on the Lincolnshire coast

Scuba divers Rachel Lopata and Helen Webb, who co-funded the UK charity Sea-Changers in 2010, have both been made MBEs in King Charles’ first Birthday Honours List. The accolade is for their services to marine conservation.

Also read: Kick-starts for ocean-conservation projects

In the past decade alone, Sea-Changers has raised and distributed £350,000 for conservation projects, ranging from practical actions such as beach-cleaning to educational activities and scientific research.

The two enthusiastic recreational divers say the sport opened their eyes both to the beauty of the ocean and marine life but also to key threats such as marine pollution and coral damage. Discussing what they could do to help from their landlocked hometown of Leicester, their solution was to establish Sea-Changers.

“In 2010, we could not have imagined that at this point we would have funded over 300 varied and amazing marine-conservation projects across the UK,” says Webb. “As newcomers to the charity sector, it has allowed us to be optimistic about how Sea-Changers can grow and develop, and enabled us to approach building a charity with fresh eyes and perspectives. 

“We have been able to draw in a wonderful range of people to fill our many skills, knowledge and understanding gaps. To receive this MBE in recognition for all Sea-Changers has achieved is a wonderful testament to the work of every member of our fantastic team.”

The charity offers grants to organisations from small local groups to well-known national charities, but its priority is to enable and empower grassroots / community groups to take localised action, “offering a springboard for their growth”. 

Project Seagrass

One example is Project Seagrass, which was founded in 2013. “In 2014 I believe Sea-Changers was the first organisation to award us a grant,” says CEO Dr Richard Lilley. “We were awarded £500 to fund the development of a seagrass training-pack, which enabled us to diversify our education materials and to deliver seagrass education in the field. 

“As we said we would in our application, we applied for additional funding sources to grow the programme and we’ve gone from strength to strength.” By 2022 Project Seagrass had an income of more than £800,000 and was developing seagrass conservation work all over the world.

Lopata and Webb say they are also committed to “enabling businesses to become part of the solution to our conservation crisis”. 

“We chose Sea-Changers to be our charity of choice purely based on the enthusiasm of Helen and Rachel,” says Steve Brown of diving equipment supplier Mike’s Dive Store, which has worked with them since 2015. “Too often with charities nowadays, much of the money is squandered and does not actually reach the intended purpose or people. 

“Mike’s wanted to choose one where we felt people were genuinely involved, interested and made sure the money got to the intended purpose. With Helen and Rachel we felt that was definitely the case. They should be proud of what they have done, especially while holding down other jobs.”

Recent funds

In 2020 Sea-Changers established the Bunzl Coastal Fountain Fund, which has so far funded 30 water bottle-refill stations around UK coasts to counter plastics pollution. 2021 saw the introduction of its Innovation Fund, with eight projects backed to date, and the Marine Conservation Social Fund, which has funded six projects designed to support or enhance participants’ health and well-being and/or benefit disadvantaged communities. 

Journey Blue is helping to tackle ghost-fishing (Sea-Changers)
Sea-Changers’ recently supported project Journey Blue is tackling ghost-fishing by offering fishers free waste-disposal (Sea-Changers)

Sea-Changers’ workload includes developing new fund-raising partnerships, working with existing business partners, administering grant payments and co-ordinating volunteers.

“To receive this MBE is very humbling,” says Lopata. “We have been so lucky to have the support, energy and expertise of our trustees and volunteers past and present, without whom none of this would have happened. 

“Likewise, we have to thank the amazing partners we work with to generate funds; and the many inspiring projects out there doing the real hands-on conservation work. Thank you to everyone who has made this happen!”

Also on Divernet: Record interest in Sea-Changers funding, Sea-Changers backs ‘win-win’ social projects, Sea-Changers channels £9,000, Unprecedented marine heatwave hits UK

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