Lifeboat women: Manon Jones from New Quay RNLI
020 marks Manon’s 10th year as lifeboat crew, but her connection with the RNLI goes back for generations. Her grandfather, Gareth Jones, was the first in the family to join – he was part of New Quay’s shore crew in the 1960s. His son, Rees-Tom, would follow him down to shouts as a child, and joined the lifeboat crew as soon as he was old enough. Rees-Tom now has over 40 years of RNLI service to his name.
When I ask Manon if she knows why her grandfather and father started volunteering with the lifeboats, she pauses – as if the answer is so self-evident it has never been vocalised. The RNLI is part of their very nature, it’s who they are.
And it’s the same for Manon, who simply says: ‘I’ve got orange and blue blood’.
Her family lives and breathes the sea. Their childhood garden edged up to New Quay’s cliffs. After her younger brother Elis was born, he was taken out on a boat within days. Summer holidays meant weeks on the beach. And she remembers the maroons, rockets which signalled to the whole community that the lifeboat was launching.
Manon recalls only excitement at the sight of her dad running out of the house to answer the call for help. Twenty years later, she recognises that it was more of a sacrifice for her mum, staying at home with three children under six. But for Manon, it was a pure thrill.
Like her dad, she joined the crew as soon as she was old enough. Her 17th birthday – the qualifying age to join – fell on a Thursday training night. This was the moment that Manon had been waiting for. Her dad had been teaching her about boats all her life. She’d already got the paperwork ready and her medical signed off. She was there that very evening, ready to be part of the team.
After a year of learning to crew New Quay’s Mersey class and D class lifeboats, Manon moved to London to study maths at Kingston University. She scoped out the London lifeboat stations (there are four along the River Thames, which was a surprise to me too before I got involved!). The RNLI’s centralised training system makes transferring between stations relatively straight-forward. Within two months, she was crewing E class lifeboats at Chiswick RNLI.
Once there, she instantly gained 60 friends – a gift to an 18-year-old who knew no-one in the city. In Chiswick, Manon found not just crew mates, but a community of people who had her back. When her bike got stolen (a fate sadly familiar for many students), two police officers from the Chiswick crew helped her report it. Her university friends never really got their heads around the fact that she’d disappear for 2 nights every month, staffing Chiswick Lifeboat Station on 12-hour shifts. But this was part of who she was. And part of what she became known for. At parties, she would be introduced as: ‘This is Manon. She crews lifeboats’.
After finishing her degree, Manon moved across the river to Teddington, where she started working as a data analyst. Not content with two shifts a month at Chiswick and volunteering at New Quay during the holidays, she also joined Teddington’s lifeboat crew. Looking back on joining as a teenager at New Quay, Manon remembers being a quieter member of the crew, keen to get things right (and not embarrass her dad). She joined Chiswick at a formative time, growing in confidence. And at Teddington, Manon feels she really came into her own. It was there that she started training to become a helm on the D class lifeboat – the same type of inshore lifeboat she’d started out crewing at 17.
Talking about learning the responsibility of a lifeboat helm, she recalls: ‘I knew I could keep a cool head. And if I could do that, I would know how to find the answers to the situation in front of me’.
It may sound like life was all lifeboats for Manon, but alongside this she was looking for a career change. She started training as a teacher, which meant moving away from Teddington and leaving the crew after 2 years. She was able to keep up her Chiswick shifts throughout the training, but the job that followed meant a move to Devon for her and her partner. Devon is known for its two beautiful coastlines, but Manon wasn’t moving to either of them. She found herself living in the middle of the county, miles away from the water for the first time in her life. That meant miles from any lifeboat station too.
I ask her if she’s found anything else to fill the void in the meantime.
She laughs and replies with a hint of regret: ‘Nothing fills that gap in my life right now. It was part of my routine, to step into a different world for 12 hours. I really miss it. It’s a huge part of who I am.’
She still crews at New Quay, alongside her dad and brother, during the holidays. And she’s researching the nearest coastal stations in Devon too. I don’t think it’ll be long before she’s found a fourth crew to join.
Ten years. Three lifeboat crews. It’s in her DNA. And besides, Manon’s got helm training to finish.
Want to see more of Julia's interviews? Catch up on the rest of the lifeboat women series.
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