Old Royal Navy Life Rafts Repurposed Into One-Of-A-Kind Bags to Support Charities

27 April 2023

The Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity has launched a new line of sustainable upcycled products in partnership with the Royal Navy and youth charity, Oarsome Chance. 

Each versatile bag is made from 100% decommissioned Royal Navy life rafts that would have otherwise ended up in a landfill. The money raised from the new collection will be donated back to the RNRMC and Oarsome Chance. 

The official launch event was held on Thursday 27th April in Boat House 4 at the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. More than 60 people were in attendance to see the ingenious collection unveiled and were given exclusive access to be one of the first to purchase these unique items.  

Guests also had the opportunity to meet with the people involved in the project, including those from Royal Navy, as well as the young people from Oarsome Chance. 

There was also a live sewing machine demonstration by Oarsome Chance, illustrating how they transform the life raft materials into something completely new, as well as six-man Royal Navy life raft on display to see the source material.  

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 the same. 

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. 

 Bob Field, Head of Support Services and Engagement for RNRMC, said: 

“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. 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.” 

Warrant Officer 1 Lee Reeves said:  

“There's no downside to this - the public purse is better off, the environment is happier, charities are making an income to support people like myself and my family and Oarsome Chance are able to get disadvantaged children involved in upcycling and providing them with some purpose as well. This has been a win-win on every front, and we couldn't be prouder to be here.” 

Each item in the collection is made in Oarsome Chance’s fully equipped studio, where students are involved with the design and construction of the products through their specialised in-house training programme. The cut and style of each item is dictated by the individual raft used in fabrication. They are handmade by the Canvas Works team at Oarsome Chance, assisted by talented young people trained by Oarsome Chance in industry standard design and sewing skills. 

 Paul Napthine, CEO of Oarsome Chance, said:  

“Our collaboration with RNRMC around the new RNRMC x Canvas Works product range is so exciting on many levels. Not only is it a fantastic charity partnership, a way for the two organisations to support each other’s goals, but also a way for both charities to raise funds, while also doing our bit towards protecting the environment.” 

Rear Admiral Paul Beattie, who’s in charge of the Navy’s Climate Change and Sustainability plan, said: 

 “It's powerful that we can do something that helps the planet and helps the local area. Thank you to everybody who was involved, thank you to the charities for making this possible, thank you to Bob and George for your determination, and thanks to all those working in the background to keep driving us through.” 

Each accessory is unique – hand crafted from a different part of a raft. Items range from a passport holder through to a laptop case as well as various bags to a top-of-the-range rolltop backpack.  

They are available to purchase at: https://www.rnrmc.org.uk/shop