Rachel Lopata and Helen Webb, Co-Founders of Sea-Changers marine conservation charity have both been awarded an MBE in the King’s first Birthday Honours list for their services to marine conservation.
Since founding Sea-Changers in 2010, Helen and Rachel have dedicated their passion, enthusiasm and boundless energy to Sea-Changers despite still running the charity as volunteers alongside their regular jobs. In the past decade alone, their dedication has resulted in £350,000 being raised and distributed to nearly 300 conservation projects.
Sea-Changers has supported hundreds of individuals who are driven to improve the UK’s seas, shores and wildlife. The projects and impact have been very wide ranging – from practical actions like beach cleaning, to educational activities and ground-breaking scientific research. The charity gives out grants supporting organisations from grass-roots, local organisations to national, household-name charities, from all around the UK – from Orkney to Alderney.
As enthusiastic recreational scuba divers, Helen and Rachel’s underwater adventures opened their eyes to the incredible beauty of our ocean and marine life. They also witnessed first-hand some of the key threats this environment was facing. Their experience of marine pollution, loss of marine life and coral damage drove them to consider what action they could take to help. Living in landlocked Leicester, their solution was to establish a charity that could raise money to help those around the UK’s beautiful shores to take the necessary action.
Sea-Changers’ priority focus has always been on enabling and empowering grassroots/community groups to take localised action offering a springboard for their growth. A perfect example being Project Seagrass. Dr Richard Lilley, CEO said: ”Project Seagrass was founded in 2013 and in 2014 I believe Sea-Changers were the first organisation to award us a grant! 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 over £800,000 and is developing seagrass conservation work all over the world.
Helen and Rachel reported, “We’re involved in developing new fundraising partnerships, working with existing business partners, administering grant payments and co-ordinating volunteers. Our talented and committed volunteers have been essential to support the charity in achieving its ambitions. They help with the running of the programmes, evaluation of projects, social media and the governance/administration of the charity.”
Helen and Rachel are passionate about enabling businesses to become part of the solution to our conservation crisis. Steve Brown from Mike’s Dive Store has worked with Sea-Changers since 2015, “We chose Sea-Changers to be our charity of choice purely based on the enthusiasm of Helen and Rachel. 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 whilst holding down other jobs.”
Supporting Sea-Changers since 2011, Ken Charleson, from Hebridean Island Cruises reported, “When we first met Helen and Rachel and they presented their concept of Sea-Changers we felt it was a unique proposal and something we, as a marine based business, could get involved with. The concept of supporting individual projects was, to us, a winner, we could see what a positive effect this could have on our local waters as well as to the UK coast in general. You just have to look at the variety of projects that they have supported to see how diverse and effective they have been in having a positive impact in the coastal environment.”
Recently, Sea-Changers has secured funding to establish new grant streams. In 2020 they established the Bunzl Coastal Fountain Fund which to date has funded 30 water bottle refill stations in coastal locations all around the UK, preventing plastic pollution through discarded plastic bottles. 2021 was also the inaugural year of the Innovation Fund and the Marine Conservation Social Fund. The latter has funded six projects which not only address important marine conservation issues but also support or enhance participants’ health and well-being and / or deliver benefits for disadvantaged communities. The Innovation Fund has a unique emphasis on supporting ideas that are new and/or experimental solutions in the field of marine conservation and to date it has supported 8 projects.
Rachel Lopata, Co-Founder of Sea-Changers said: “To receive this MBE is very humbling. 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 who are out there doing the real hands-on conservation work. Thank you to everyone who has made this happen!’
Helen Webb, Co-Founder of Sea-Changers said “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. 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.”