New Seafarers’ Cabin is opened at Ipswich Waterfront

There has been a port in Ipswich for hundreds of years.

Although the Victorian Wet Dock area is now being regenerated as the Waterfront, for other business uses, homes and leisure, there is still a busy working port here.

Seafarers from around the world come here every year, strangers in an unfamiliar country, thousands of miles from friends and family.

Now a brand new Seafarers’ Centre has been opened by Eagle Wharf to provide a social hub for sailors coming to Ipswich on board visiting ships.

This new cabin has been provided by the Environment Agency, which is working on the new Ipswich tidal barrier nearby.

It was officially opened by the Mayor of Ipswich Hamil Clarke yesterday before an audience of port users and business people.

The event was organised by David Thurston, chairman of the Felixstowe and Haven Ports Seafarer Service, a stand-alone charity. It runs the Felixstowe Centre with two satellite sites, Harwich and the new base in Ipswich.

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Two chaplains based at Felixstowe will help run the new centre; Sister Marian Davey, of the Apostleship of the Sea, and the Rev Simon Davies of the Mission to Seafarers.

Mr Thurston, who is also a Haven Ports pilot, said the new centre would meet an important need.

He said: “We get 750 to 800 vessels coming to Ipswich in a year.

“They are usually quite small ships with about six seamen on them, and mostly non-British, from the Philippines and eastern Europe.

“It is not unusual for them to be away from their families for six to nine months at a time, Some are away for up to a year.”

The Felixstowe Centre is open 365 days a year and from 10am to 10pm, with 30 staff including many volunteers.

The new Ipswich centre will be open whenever it is required for socialising by visitors.

It includes a chapel area, a lounge and a room where visitors would be able to contact their homes via the internet when Wi-fi was made available at the centre.

The new centre was opened and blessed by Mr Davies and Sister Marian.

Mr Thurston added: “It will provide a safe haven with resources for all seafarers, the majority of which spend many months at sea away from their homes and families.”

“For most of us we can end the working day relaxing or out with family and friends. For the seafarer none of this is possible.

“Some ports are too dangerous to go ashore and others deny access to them. It is not uncommon for a sailor to spend eight weeks on board without getting off his ship.”

Ipswich has been a port since Anglo Saxon times. From 1869 to 1880 the chapel ship Helena was moored close to where the new cabin has been set up.

The Ipswich Journal of Saturday November 6, 1869, described the conversion of the chapel ship and a stirring opening ceremony.

Mr Cunnold, a local builder, made the benches, communion rails and pulpits. The chapel could seat 500 people and 600 packed in for the evening service on November 3, lit by gaslight. Most recently a second-hand portable building was used, from 2007 to earlier this year. That had to be moved to make way for construction work in connection with the new tidal barrier.

There are now plans to make Wi-fi available not just for the new centre but for all the berths for visiting ships coming into Ipswich.

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