Our vision at the Mission to Seafarers Newcastle is to provide seafarers with practical and spiritual support, a warm and loving welcome and a home away from home. Our 60 volunteers greet seafarers with welcoming hearts and a spirit of genuine care. We provide clean and safe environments and facilities to refresh seafarers during their limited shore leave and help to prepare them as they head back out to sea.
First and foremost are the spiritual and pastoral needs of our visiting seafarers. We have several Anglican and Catholic chaplains who welcome seafarers to our Centre and make themselves available to seafarers and others in the Port of Newcastle. A weekly Catholic Mass is held in our dedicated chapel, which at other times is maintained as a quiet space for prayer and reflection, open to all seafarers visiting our Centre.
Seafarers often comment to us that the food on-board their vessels can be plain, repetitive and boring. The cooks do their best on-board, however their access to fresh, quality produce can be limited. Our volunteer cooks crafted 7,512 delicious home style meals for the seafarers in 2018, which are continually and freely offered to seafarers when they visit. Excess fresh fruit and vegetables are also made available to the seafarers to take back to their ships to assist their cooks’ efforts to provide a varied and healthy diet at sea. The Mission to Seafarers Newcastle are fortunate to be supported in this work by Oz Harvest, a charity who reduce food waste by collecting perishable foods from businesses and donating them to charities like ours to use.
Many of the seafarers who arrive at our Centre need clothing appropriate to conditions at sea. With the help of local parishes and community donations, we were able to gift seafarers with 18,000 items of free, clean, second-hand clothing and 7,850 hand knitted woollen beanies in 2018.
Our Centre prides itself on the homely feel and relaxing atmosphere we provide for seafarers. We have comfortable lounge spaces, a dedicated sleeping area, and clean bathroom facilities. A piano is a welcome sight for many seafarers in our Centre, along with guitars and other musical instruments. Others are happy to enjoy a game of pool with their friends and our chaplains enjoy joining them in these activities as a way of connecting across cultural and language barriers. We also provide a library of books and magazines along with bibles and Christian tracts in various languages.
A computer room and free Wi-Fi access are provided throughout the Centre, as a first priority for seafarers after many months at sea is the ability to contact partners, children, family and friends. Often that contact can be bittersweet. Nearly every week there is a seafarer who sees their newborn baby for the first time via Skype in our Centre. These men are often only able to hold their infant for the first time when they are already around 6 months old. We are privileged to be an integral part of their life’s journey in this way.
Our on-site shop offers currency exchange and provide ready access to items such as SIM and recharge cards, souvenirs, snacks and personal toiletry items and electronics. As the turnaround time for ships in port is becoming shorter, it is not unusual for seafarers to have only and hour or two of shore-leave before they must head back to the ship. Often our shop is often the only chance the seafarers have to purchase much-needed items.
Christmas is a particularly significant time for seafarers who are away from their families. Our Centre prepared and distributed 800 Christmas care packs and gifts to seafarers in 2018. This act of love and care on behalf of our volunteers reinforces our message to seafarers that they are a part of our family and are welcome whenever they visit Newcastle. To make these packs, we rely on our wonderfully supportive network of local parishes and community-based volunteers, who assists us in gathering donated items for these packs, which include toiletries, Christmas lollies and chocolates, puddings, Christian literature and games and puzzles. Each pack is presented in an individual hand-made, reusable cloth bag.