Honour for RNLI volunteer who has worked to prevent drowning on the Thames
RNLI volunteer John Soones has been awarded the BEM for his invaluable work in preventing drowning along the Thames and for his efforts in trying to reduce the number of suicides on the river.
John originally joined the RNLI as a Life Governor nearly 40 years ago after the RNLI were involved in rescuing him following a diving accident. In later life he applied to become crew at Chiswick Lifeboat Station but finding himself too old to serve on the lifeboat, he agreed to work as a voluntary Lifeboat Sea Safety Officer in the capital.
Working with the Kingston River Safety Forum he soon realised if the RNLI was going to achieve its target of halving the number of lives lost through drowning by 2024, the charity had to tackle the issue of suicides and suicide attempts on the river.
‘I looked at the statistics and realised we couldn’t avoid discussing a third of the fatalities on the river. What we have done is influence others to improve safety along the river.
A key part of this has been working other local organisations such as councils, the police and health care trusts to support mental health facilities in the area. We’ve nudged them in certain directions that we know are successful,’ he added.
Guy Addington, the RNLI’s Community Safety Partner for London and the South East, says John’s work has been instrumental in invigorating the Kingston River Safety Forum and from initial research, recorded lives lost along the upper reaches on the river have gone down since his work began. There are now plans to extend the program to other boroughs within London, with the Richmond River Safety Forum already up and running.
John has also been instrumental in launching ‘lifejacket clinics’ after RNLI research revealed some people’s lifejackets were not working properly. “He initially targeted rowing clubs offering sound guidance around maintenance and their use,’ said Guy. ‘So many clubs have experienced the benefit that the RNLI can barely keep up with demand!’
In a similar vein, he was also instrumental in promoting ‘Flare Amnesties’ across the south coast in partnership with other agencies. Despite great obstacles, many thousands of out-of-date pyrotechnics were collected and safely disposed of, keeping many people safe. During the 2015 Rugby World Cup he also managed to secure permission for the screening of a short RNLI film on big screens in each host city which contained important safety messages and was broadcast to thousands of people.
‘I’m delighted that the work I’ve done over the past ten years has been recognised in some way,’ said John. ‘I’m one member of a very big team – there are a lot of people walking around today who wouldn’t be otherwise because of the work we’ve done.’
‘In my mind Community Safety can save lives, I see it every day. I’m going to bang on about that and keep the flag flying. We are the gold standard for search and rescue, I’m not taking away from that one bit, but how can we prevent people getting into difficulty? That’s what I’m passionate about.’
As well as John’s voluntary work with the RNLI, he is also Chair of the British Diving Safety Group, is a senior magistrate and also volunteers for the national blood service, regularly delivering blood supplies on his motorbike at night. ‘My whole life is about volunteering,’ he explained.
‘Using his knowledge and experience he has driven the RNLI’s drowning prevention interventions as far upstream as Oxford and in turn is contributing to the delivery of the National Drowning Prevention Strategy,’ added Guy Addington.
‘Not only has he made a huge contribution to more effectively saving lives on the Thames, but his passion, leadership and interaction with other volunteers has made a difference to saving lives at sea around the whole country. He makes things happen, and his enthusiasm and unwavering devotion to lifesaving has without any doubt, helped to save countless lives.'
RNLI Chief Executive Paul Boissier said: 'The RNLI depends on the tremendous courage, commitment and skill of its volunteers, staff and fundraisers – and those that have been named in this year’s New Year Honours truly exemplify those qualities. I am immensely proud of all our tireless staff and volunteers who received Honours this year – it is wonderful that these well-deserving people have been recognised in this way. We could not carry on our lifesaving work without them.'
Key facts about the RNLI
The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates over 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and, in a normal year, more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives.