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Old liferafts turned into high-street fashion to help Navy’s premier charity

Old liferafts turned into high-street fashion to help Navy’s premier charity
27 April 2023
Old liferafts are being turned into high-street fashion to raise money for Royal Navy families – and help give young people a fresh start in life.

Out-of-date rafts, fire hoses and other life-saving kit are being converted into up-market fashion accessories – handbags, sports bags, wallets – to raise money for the Service’s premier charity.

Beyond helping the families of Royal Navy and Royal Marines personnel, the project – known as ‘upcycling’ – ensures unwanted kit does not end up in landfill as it once did.

And, through Gosport-based charity Oarsome Chance, it’s training disadvantaged young people from around the Portsmouth area, giving them design and manufacturing skills.

Through upcycling, the old kit receives a new lease of life, saves the MOD the time and cost of dumping, and encourages sailors to think about the environment, recycling and the ‘throw-away culture’ of developed nations like the UK.

“Not every project needs new technology, a huge investment or a massive efficiency. It’s relatively small – but it makes a difference: reducing landfill, reducing cost, generating money for the Royal Navy’s primary charity and supporting young people in the local community,” said Warrant Officer 1 Lee Reeves, who’s delighted to see the initiative come to fruition.

The project has been driven by former warrant officer Bob Field who now works for the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity in Portsmouth.
He noticed that the RNLI was turning some of its old kit into merchandise to raise money – and wondered if the Royal Navy could do likewise.

In WO1 Reeves Bob found someone in the Royal Navy thinking similarly… and in Oarsome Chance, which already ‘upcycles’ old sails, canvas, ropes and other seafaring items, crafting them into wallets, bags and bracelets, he found a local organisation able to make use of the unwanted survival equipment.
“I knew from my last job in The Royal Navy that the MOD disposed of disused items in varying ways, including some going to landfill at a cost,” said Bob, who’s the RNRMC’s Head of Support Services and Engagement.

“With the help of my colleagues, I thought there’s got to be a creative solution here. Through this project we’ve managed to take difficult or impossible to recycle materials, materials destined for a landfill, and make incredible products with new value. The value is not just funding for RNRMC, but also for the teams of young people who are helping make this happen.

“I believe this is just the tip of the iceberg – it would be excellent if this was the way forward with other pieces of kit across all of Defence.”
It’s taken four years to reach the point where the collection can be produced and sold in sufficient numbers – a trial run a couple of years ago led to the merchandise quickly being snapped up.

“This project is a great example of innovation, creativity and collaboration – all skills and qualities we aim to encourage and develop within the Royal Navy,” said Rear Admiral Paul Beattie, who’s in charge of the Navy’s Climate Change and Sustainability plan.
“It’s a shining light of how small projects can achieve benefit for many – within the Royal Navy but more broadly for charities, local people and of course, for the benefit of the planet."

Each accessory is unique – hand crafted from a different part of a raft or hose (or both). Items range from a passport holder (£20) through laptop case (£40) and various bags to a top-of-the-range rolltop backpack (£150). They are available for purchase at:


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