From Photography Fan to Whitstable Lifeboat Man
People become lifeboat crew for many reasons, but for one Whitstable man, it was an interest in Victorian photography that led him to join the RNLI!
Richard Monje, a 40-year-old railway worker, was inspired by The Lifeboat Station Project, Jack Lowe’s mission to capture all 238 lifeboat stations using wet plate collodion – a Victorian photographic method that captures images on glass plates.
He says Jack’s portraits of volunteer lifeboat crew made him want to join their ranks.
Richard says: ‘I studied photography at university, and a few years ago, I tried my hand at wet plate collodion. It’s a very difficult photographic process so I was looking around the internet to find other people who were doing it, and that’s how I found Jack’s work. It was amazing seeing someone doing that kind of photography on such a grand scale.’
‘But following his project really opened my eyes to the RNLI. I remember seeing his image of the Margate RNLI crew. It really resonated with me as it made me realise just how many people were involved in launching the boat, that it was a very labour-intensive operation. I thought, ‘I could be one of them’.
‘I emailed my local lifeboat station, Whitstable, saying I worked shifts and I would be happy to do whatever I could to help out, and the Lifeboat Operations Manager invited me down for a chat. The more I learnt about it, the more I wanted to do it.’
Richard officially became a trainee crew member at Whitstable in June 2019 and went afloat for the first time on a training exercise a few weeks ago.
He says: ‘So far, life as a lifeboat crew volunteer has been fantastic. It’s great to feel as though you are doing something meaningful with your spare time and giving something back. It’s very rewarding to be part of an organisation that is at the heart of the local community and I’m very proud to call myself an RNLI crew member.’
He says: “I had no idea what to expect, and having not come from a boating background I had a lot to learn.”
As well as giving his time as volunteer crew, Richard has also become a ‘patron’ of Jack’s project, which is largely self-funded.Photographer Jack Lowe, who lives in Newcastle, says: ‘When I started the Lifeboat Station Project in January 2015, I thought I’d simply be telling the story of a band of people that I’ve held in high esteem since childhood — the lifeboat volunteers dotted around our shores.’
‘I would never have dreamed of receiving this kind of news, that my own journey would have inspired somebody to wander down to their local lifeboat station and signup to become a volunteer. Somehow, it feels like the ultimate accolade for my efforts.’
‘I’d like to thank Richard for his ongoing support and wish him well in his exciting new chapter as a Whitstable lifeboat volunteer.’
As a life-saving charity, the RNLI is busier than ever. The RNLI’s lifeboats are responding to more calls for help, more money is needed to train crews and equipment, but income has gone down. It’s the Perfect Storm and means lifeboat crews are facing their toughest Christmas ever. It means the charity is looking for support to help invest more in training for its brave local lifesavers like Richard.
Photograph 1 : Richard during his first exercise afloat. Photo: Andrew Hastings.
Photograph 2: Margate RNLI by Jack Lowe/ The Lifeboat Station Project.
Photograph 3: Jack Lowe's wet plate photograph of the Whitstable Lifeboat crew.
Note for Editors:
Follow Jack’s RNLI photographic mission on Instagram (@lordlowe), Facebook (fb.com/LifeboatStationProject), on Twitter (@ProjectLifeboat) or on the Project’s dedicated site (http://lifeboatstationproject.com).
Notes to Editors
An RNLI film about the Project is here: https://vimeo.com/187357213
An FAQ about the Project is here: https://lifeboatstationproject.com/faq/
Media are welcome to film/ interview Jack Lowe. Contact RNLI Public Relations on firstname.lastname@example.org/ 01202 336789.
RNLI Media contacts:
Chris Davey, volunteer Lifeboat Press Officer, Whitstable Lifeboat Station 07741 012004 email@example.com
Paul Dunt, Regional Media Officer (South East), 0207 6207426, 07785 296252 firstname.lastname@example.org
For enquiries outside normal business hours, contact the RNLI duty press officer on 01202 336789
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.