Port Talbot and Conwy RNLI crews mark 50th birthday

Tom Hewlett Image copyright Port Talbot RNLI
Image caption Tom Hewlett (right) has become a volunteer after being rescued by the crew

Lifeboat volunteers at two Welsh stations are gearing up to celebrate 50 years of saving lives at sea.

Both the Port Talbot and Conwy RNLI crews are about to mark a half century and a raft of special events are planned.

Among those joining the celebrations is fisherman Tom Hewlett who became a volunteer after being himself rescued in the River Neath.

He said: "It's a way to show my gratitude for saving me."

The experienced angler got into difficulty in July 2014, when the tide suddenly rushed in around him and cut him off and Port Talbot RNLI soon swung into action.

He said: "I went fishing in the River Neath without first checking the tide times.

"Being a stranger to the area, I had no idea I could be cut off by the tide.

"I was standing on a small pinnacle of rock fishing when I realised the incoming water had cut off my route back to the river bank.

"I rang the coastguard on my mobile and the lifeboat was launched to my rescue. They were brilliant. Fortunately I was just shaken up and didn't need any hospital treatment."

After being safely returned to shore, Mr Hewlett decided to volunteer with the Port Talbot crew. He has been volunteering at the station for nearly two years and has just completed his training.

He added: "I would recommend anyone to join the RNLI, it is a brilliant organisation with a great team spirit and I get a lot of satisfaction from being a part of it."

Mr Hewlett will be at a coffee morning on Friday to mark on the station's achievements during half a century of lifesaving. The current volunteer crew will meet former crew members and reflect on how the station has changed over the years.

Also present will be Alec Stewart, who was a volunteer when the station first opened its doors on 21 May 1966. He will be introducing a historic book he has written chronicling the station's history.

Other guests include people who have been rescued over the years by the Port Talbot crew, as well as Jean Jones, 80, who has been a key part of the station since it was established in the 1960s.

Mrs Jones and a group of friends first joined forces to raise funds for the RNLI nearly 50 years ago and decided to form a ladies section. Over the years she has been pivotal to charity efforts to raise thousands of pounds for the crew.

'Like family'

She said: "The crew are like my family. I call them my boys and it has been my life for 50 years.

"I've always felt it was something I had to do. Everybody needs saving and when you step into the water you never know what might happen so we need our crews there to save us if something goes wrong.

"I first got involved for the social aspect and back in the day we held big balls and cocktail parties."

Mrs Jones said her proudest moment was receiving a medal for long service 10 years ago, and she is due to have a gold bar added to the medal to mark 50 years volunteering with the charity.

The crew will also come together at the Aberafon Beach Hotel on 28 May for a special anniversary dinner.

Robbie Harris, current RNLI lifeboat operations manager at Port Talbot, said: "Keeping a station afloat for 50 years is no mean feat, but we have been very lucky to have never struggled to find competent crew in all these years.

Image copyright RNLI
Image caption Jean Jones, Port Talbot fundraiser with crew member Kyle James

"We have a great family in Port Talbot and are so well supported by our fundraisers.

"It's a real treat to see people from our past and present coming together to celebrate this very special occasion for us all."

Central to celebrations at Conwy will be the presentation of an award to their longest-serving volunteer Trevor Jones, who joined Conwy RNLI when it first opened its doors in June 1966.

Mr Jones is also set to receive an award for 50 years of volunteering with the RNLI.

He said: "As a young lad, joining the lifeboat was a natural thing for me to do - I was a fisherman on the River Conwy and the two went hand in hand.

"Back in those days, all the lifeboat crew were fishermen and we knew the river like the back of our hands.

"We were all confident and felt safe in the environment we worked in, so it seemed like the right thing to do to help others who got into trouble."

He said that now none of the current crew are commercial fishermen, training is more important than ever before.

"The RNLI provides the very best training and equipment for our crew to do their jobs in the safest possible way and that training is paramount."

Once he had retired from the crew, Mr Jones helped authorise the launch of Conwy's lifeboat and he still volunteers today in an administrative role.

'Fantastic support'

Image copyright RNLI
Image caption RNLI volunteer Trevor Jones, who is celebrating 50 years with the RNLI at Conwy, with crew members Mike Thomas, Danny-Lee Davies and Alan Flood

Mr Jones added: "When I first came into the station it was a wooden shed and the lifeboat had nothing like the modern search and rescue equipment it has today.

"The RNLI has certainly come a long way in half a decade but one thing which hasn't changed is the fantastic support we have from the public, which keeps us going."

Also attending the celebrations on the quay side will be the station's newest crew members.

With them will be crew member Pete Hughes, who is the same age as Conwy Lifeboat Station and was encouraged to sign up by Mr Jones.

The actual anniversary at Conwy will fall on 18 June, when the crew come together at Conwy Comrades Club for an anniversary dinner to mark the occasion.

Conwy RNLI lifeboat station was established in June 1966 when D-class lifeboat D-97 was placed on service.

One of the most memorable services came just four years later in 1970, when Trevor Jones, Brian Jones and Ronald Craven rescued two men from the cabin cruiser Fulmar which had broken down one mile west of West Shore, Llandudno on the afternoon of 30 August.

The Thanks of the Institution inscribed on Vellum was accorded to all three for their part in that rescue.

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