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Interview with Liverpool Seafarers Centre - Seafarer Centre of the Year 2019

December 09, 2019
Liverpool Seafarers Centre 1
John Wilson, Chief Executive at Liverpool Seafarers Centre © Liverpool Seafarers Centre

Liverpool Seafarers Centre in the UK, which was named Seafarer Centre of the Year at the International Seafarers’ Welfare Awards 2019, was described as a ‘home from home’ by one seafarer who nominated it. Seafarers visiting the centre can take advantage of facilities including a bar with a shop, an outdoor all-weather area with seating, free WiFi and a games area including a full-size snooker table. The centre is open every day, often extending its closing time to meet the needs of seafarers arriving late at night. Seafarers are picked up from their vessels and dropped off again after their visit, and ship visitors are available for seafarers with no time for shore leave. We spoke to the centre's Chief Executive John Wilson after our awards ceremony in September.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your role at Liverpool Seafarers Centre.

I was appointed in 2006, with a brief to bring two independent Societies together. This was achieved on 1 October 2008, Liverpool Seafarers Centre was formally launched being a partnership between the Apostleship of the Sea (Liverpool) and The Mersey Mission to Seafarers. Today all seafarers are welcomed whose vessel berths within the Port of Liverpool and or at the numerous berths within the Mersey. Recently our geographical area of responsibility has increased to incorporate the NW coast of England, Silloth, Workington, Barrow and Glasson.

My role, whilst hands-on at present, is to ensure the smooth running of the centre, with adequate staff and volunteers to meet the needs of seafarers as presented. This is demand-lead, which in itself is somewhat interesting as it is often an unknown entity as to the need, as it is all dependent upon the individual seafarer. No two days, nor even hours within the day are the same, it is impossible to gauge how the wishes of seafarers will present, which makes for an interesting job role. In essence it is not a job, but a vocation, demanding at times, however one which I do not wish to change. The role will not be possible without the dedication of a supportive team of volunteers, whilst the staff team is the backbone of the organisation, it is the volunteers who step up to the mark to ensure that Liverpool Seafarers Centre delivers the service which the seafarers deserve. It is only through the engagement with seafarers can we deliver a service to meet the anticipated requirement.

© Liverpool Seafarers Centre

The topic of seafarers’ mental wellbeing has been receiving a great deal of attention. You recently introduced the services of a Clinical Psychologist at your centre – how are you helping to improve the mental wellbeing of seafarers visiting the Port of Liverpool?

Seafarers’ wellbeing is at the heart of everything we do. Mental health presents in so many different guises, whilst we will never be professionals in this mind field, we can identify situations which impact upon the individual seafarer enabling us, with confidence to engage and momentarily relieve some of the burdens under which the individual is experiencing. The engagement of a professional Clinical Psychologist is formulating best practice to gain confidence when encountering situations, which previously will have gone unnoticed. This is a relatively new experience, one which I am confident will enhance our service provision.

What effect has winning the Seafarer Centre of the Year award had on the centre?

Winning the award has had both success and challenges, raising our profile through international, national and local media has identified the importance of seafaring, seafarers and our service delivery. Challenges by identifying weaknesses in our service provision, enabling questions to be raised as to how we might improve both in delivery and efficiency. For all concerned, staff and volunteers, we must maintain the standard attributable to and expected of the award.

Why is the role of seafarers’ centres so important in seafarers’ welfare?

The centre is the focal point for both staff members and volunteers alike. Gives a sense of belonging – for the seafarer, both active and veteran, it is the catalyst from where other forms of ‘relaxation’ are organised – trip to local shopping mall / supermarket, sporting stadia, run to the city to absorb the culture and attractions of a growing cosmopolitan compact city. The Centre is well supported by seafarers. On average 1500 individual seafarers make use of the Centre, into which we have established a homely atmosphere. We recognise it as a building, bricks and mortar; it is the staff and volunteers who create the inviting, warm, loving environment. True faster turnarounds has impacted upon shore leave to the detriment of seafarers’ wellbeing, which is why our outreach is paramount to visit vessels and engage with seafarers.

© Liverpool Seafarers Centre

What plans does Liverpool Seafarers Centre have for the future?

To improve the service provision for all seafarers active and veteran across an expanding region. To encourage others to partner with Liverpool Seafarers Centre to maximise additional resource to meet the increased demand over a widening geographical area. To continuously raise the standard of the service provision within the sector to be a beacon of excellence.

Exploring and introducing initiatives to improve seafarers’ welfare and mental health is a plan for 2020 with targeted outcomes. All will be of some value and comfort to seafarers and enable the team of staff members and volunteers to continuously improve their individual self-confidence in this area of service delivery. Continue to uphold the human rights of seafarers, liaise with statutory authority, ship owners / charterers/ manning companies and flag state, all to improve the life of the seafarer. As a constituent member of both MNWB and ICMA bring to the attention of both IMO and ILO matters to enhance seafarers conditions.

Whilst the focus of endeavours concentrate on merchant seafarers, fishers are within our catchment area – we will ensure that their rights and conditions are upheld and respected.

With multi-nation crew on board today’s vessels, we will raise knowledge of both staff members and volunteers through a programme of training with diversity majoring as an agenda item.

For more information about Liverpool Seafarers Centre, visit liverpoolseafarerscentre.org.

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