Thank you so much to The Mint for choosing QVSR as its charity of the year. In December I went up to visit the seamens’ centres at Tilbury (both at the dock and at the cruise terminal). I wanted to see whether there was anything that we as a church could seek to achieve. The centre at the dock was being used by half a dozen Filipino sailors who had just endured exhaustingly stormy passages from Canada. They had docked shortly before 3 am that morning and had been met by the QVSR chaplain who had helped them get a train to London to see the sights. She was back on duty to sort them out on their return shortly before noon (complete with their souvenirs for their families) and to take them to their ship ready for an early afternoon sailing. Whilst the Polish chaplain from Stella Maris (the Roman Catholic partner of QVSR) put up the Christmas tree under the Methodist logo at the centre (!) I spoke with the seafarers, learned a little of their life and the separation from home and family that it entailed and saw for myself how much they valued the homely centre. I noticed in one corner of the centre a display of hand-made hats and gloves – free for the sailors to take.

The visit to the Cruise Crew Centre was very illuminating. The terminal at Tilbury is where “The Windrush” docked, and a long mural reminds today’s cruise passengers of the event as they embark or disembark through the grand boarding hall. By contrast, disembarking crew were channelled from the lower decks down a separate alley to a bare dockside. The QVSR chaplain discovered that there were a couple of rooms adjacent to the passenger terminal that were currently only occupied by pigeons and a dead fox. They had formerly been the Tilbury HQ of Special Branch. She asked if she could use them: and the Port authority agreed, for a 10-year term. The rooms have now been gutted, redecorated (the art work was being hung whilst I was there) and converted into a rest centre for crew members (who sometimes only have an hour or so ashore, after clearing up after one set of passengers and welcoming the next). There is a really smart kitchen and some new tables and chairs. But what are missing are (1) sofas and lounge chairs and (2) benches and tables for the balcony overlooking the river. That would make it truly relaxing and would show the crew that they are valued. Could we contribute to that?

In the quiet room at the Tilbury Seamen’ Centre Mark Mangadlao of MV Optimana (a UK registered container ship) had written this prayer – in his own style: Heavenly Father, Thank you for all the blessings you have bestowed upon us. Thank you for the safe voyage and good company while we were on board. Please keep us safe and take we from all harm. Take care also of our families and grant them good health. Yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory. Amen.
Alastair Norris