RESCUER Nick Clark plays two vital roles in the community — heading Tavistock parish church’s fabric team and finding missing people as a volunteer with Dartmoor Search and Rescue, writes Juliette Bowers.

At St Eustachius’ Church, Nick oversees seven volunteers, who turn their hand to everything from clearing leaves from the roof and replacing light bulbs, to erecting Christmas trees for the December festival and the stage for last year’s Passion Play.

For greater tasks, such as the re-roofing of the vestry in the spring, they oversee local contractors.

Away from the demands of the church, Nick spends many hours each week training with his Collie, Jess, and since qualifying for Dartmoor Search and Rescue two years ago, has attended 58 call-outs. He is also secretary of the team and sometimes his commitments can mean seven days a week.

Every Sunday, Nick, 58, and Jess spend four hours training with other dog handlers from the South West Region. Once a month they travel to different parts of the country to further their skills with the Search and Rescue Dogs Association (SARDA), their most recent in the Lake District. On Thursday mornings, too, a friend acts as a body for Jess to find.

Nick said: ‘The navigation skills are, in my opinion, superb. In order to pass the qualification assessment for the team you have to prove you can navigate with greater precision than anything I had to do in 32 years in the army.’

He recalled a near midnight call-out last July, when a man in his 50s had gone missing after leaving a note. His car had been found at Two Bridges and five searchers spread out at regular intervals. Eventually, the team navigator in the centre position spotted a figure at Littaford Tor. Nick, as casualty carer, called in the team leader, using a priority radio message, and assessed the man, who had numerous cuts to his wrists. With him was an empty bottle of scotch and two empty pill packs. Nick then called team welfare officer, Andy Barton, who is also a chaplain at Derriford Hospital, to attend to the man’s emotional distress whilst he concentrated on the man’s medical condition. The man was then taken to hospital.

Nick said: ‘I cannot over emphasise how thorough SARDA are in their training. Everybody has to be qualified in mountain rescue for at least a year. Assessment is of a universal standard throughout the country and to pass, the handler and dog team have to succeed in five assessments. It’s not easy.’

Jess, who as ‘a failed sheepdog’ makes an ideal trainee for Dartmoor Search and Rescue, is halfway through her 18-month course. He said: ‘Jess and I can spend every day together. I read her and she reads me. She is a wonderful dog in many ways, though relatively nervous and lacking in confidence compared to her peers — I have to develop that.’

To qualify in mountain rescue Nick’s experience more than fits the bill. He was in the Royal Engineers, serving in many countries including Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Bosnia, Macedonia and Northern Ireland. For eight years he was in bomb disposal.

He explained: ‘After the Brighton bomb in 1984, Margaret Thatcher instructed that the army should teach police forces all they knew about searching for bombs in Northern Ireland.

I was tasked with forming the first joint Military and Police Search Training Team, which has grown over the years to become the Police National Search Centre’.

He is modest about any fears he might have experienced. ‘Bomb disposal is enormously rewarding but as a job it is an exercise in technical logic. You don’t attempt to disarm a device until you know exactly how it works and to do that you have a fantastic array of equipment available.’

Nick had a Christian upbringing, which included independent boarding school, and was confirmed at university. When asked whether his faith prompted his lifestyle choices, he said: ‘I am not sure my faith drives my motivation. It is driven by Christian values. I think I am Deist rather than Christian - Christianity doesn’t have a monopoly on God.’

Evensong is Nick’s ‘Sunday evening ritual’, where, he said, ‘I can be close to my mum and dad’. He added: ‘I admire greatly the contribution St Eustachius’ makes to the local community and I enjoy the music. We are extremely lucky to have such a devoted and talented choir.’

Now retired, Nick enjoys being involved in voluntary work and being able to pick and choose his pursuits.

He said: ‘I had never been part of a local community for more than two years at a time and I feel very pleased to have settled in Tavistock, fulfilling the expectations of being part of a community — it’s perfect.’

A special service of celebration and thanksgiving to mark the 50th anniversary of the Dartmoor Search and Rescue Team (Tavistock) is being held tonight (Thursday) at St Eustachius’ Church.

Anyone is welcome to attend the service at 7pm which will tell the team’s story and celebrate its journey over the last half a century.

It is also the first event in St Eustachius’ Church’s 700th centenary celebrations.

• Read more about Dartmoor Search and Rescue Team (Tavistock) in our advertising feature in this week’s edition of the Times.