Gallery: Providing a safe haven for seafarers from all over the globe

Felixstowe Seafarers Centre
Lesley Harvey

Felixstowe Seafarers Centre Lesley Harvey - Credit: Archant

LIVING on the ocean waves might sound romantic but it can’t be easy being away from your home and family for months on end.

For those who work at sea, the Seafarers’ Centre in Felixstowe is a welcoming home from home where they can relax and make contact with family and friends.

Today Archie Rasonabe, 31, and McRovic Cruz, 23, both of the Philippines are taking their ease in the centre, emailing their loved ones while their ship the MV Bodo Schulte is in port.

Archie said: “I’ve been here before. It is a good place. We can talk with our families. We come here while we are in Felixstowe, there are good facilities.”

McRovic said they have been at sea for several weeks with their voyage starting in Israel.

He added: “People are very friendly. I bought a teddy bear from the shop.”

With phone booths, internet café, a comfortable seating area, bar and well-stocked shop, the seafarers’ centre welcomed around 30,000 seafarers last year.

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Manager Susie Winship, 27, said the centre is hoping to increase public awareness about its work throughout 2013.

She added: “We are open from 10am to 10pm every day 365 days a year. It’s a home from home that we are trying to create for the seafarers when they come into the Port of Felixstowe.

“It’s a place where seafarers can come to relax away from their place of work. There’s no pressure.”

With around 20 to 25 volunteers as well as some paid staff, Susie and her team manage the centre’s bar and shop as well as providing an on- demand bus service from the centre to the quayside.

Susie added: “We are a charity and we are always looking for volunteers, especially fundraisers this year.”

While the majority of seafarers are aged in their 20s or 30s, they are of all ages from all over the world – the centre also houses a chapel and two chaplains who look after the spiritual and pastoral needs of the seafarers.

Simon Davies is a chaplain from the Mission to Seafarers.

He said: “My job is to attend to the welfare of seafarers.

“Because there is such a quick turn around on modern container ships I spend a lot of my time going on board offering pastoral care and spiritual guidance.

“It is very interesting as I am meeting people from all over the world every day.”

Jackie Goodchild, 48, is a volunteer at the centre.

She said: “I have been volunteering here for about a year. I often come down and help out on a Sunday night. I love the atmosphere and meeting the seafarers. Often they will have been at sea for a long time so it is nice to give them a warm welcome. I help in the shop or the bar, wherever I am needed really.

“It is very rewarding.”

The centre’s shop offers a range of goods including souvenirs – royal memorabilia is especially popular, toiletries, snacks – with Cadbury’s chocolate proving the most popular, clothing, watches and sim cards. The centre also offers advice on how to get into Felixstowe town centre and currency exchange.

David Thurston, 53, a senior pilot with the Harwich Haven Authority and chairman of the Felixstowe and Haven Ports service which runs the centre, said the centre was opened in 1976. It costs around £150,000 a year to run.

He added: “I went to sea when I was 16 until I was about 26. The seafarers’ centres all over the world offered a lifeline to me and becoming chairman was an opportunity to support the local seafarers’ centre.

“We rely on a network of volunteers and donations and grants to run the centre. It’s very busy all year round. We offer a safe haven for seafarers from all over the world to relax. And with the port getting busier and busier it is more relevant today than ever.”