On Wednesday June 6 Evesham and District U3A welcomed Yvonne Penn as guest speaker at the monthly meeting. She gave an enlightening and informative talk on the Sailors’ Society, a small charity obviously close to her heart.

The Sailors’ Society is Britain’s oldest Maritime Charity, celebrating its 200th anniversary earlier this year. Originally set up in London in 1818, by George C. Smith to give aid to sailors returning to England, jobless and penniless from the Napoleonic wars. Smith was a Boatswain (Bosun) in the Merchant Navy and a preacher.

On March 18th 1818, a boat named ”SPEEDY” had been fitted out and moored on the Thames to offer relief and companionship through tea and chat, a hot meal and prayers to the destitute ex sailors. This was the world’s first seafarers’ church, a floating sanctuary – where the old sailors could meet and receive support from the chaplains. This was the beginning of the Sailors’ Society.

Subsequently George C. Smith moved to Penzance and established the R.N.L.I.

For 200 years the Sailors’ Society has been providing help and care to seafarers. The basic needs of seamen and women remain the same – safe working practices, comfortable living quarters on board and some contact with family and friends left behind. However, in today’s world the type and scope of help required has increased substantially.

As an island Britain imports 90% of its goods. Whether it’s food and agricultural products, textiles or clothing, cars and machinery or the ‘I Phone’ these goods are brought to our shores by an invisible workforce of 1.6 m seafarers from all over the world. Many of these seaman and women leave their homes and families to provide this service. It’s not easy, they often face loneliness and isolation, violent storms and even piracy. Thousands of these workers come from some of the most deprived communities in the world and use seafaring as a route out of poverty for their families.

200 years after its foundation the Sailors’ Society provides hope across the world’s seafaring nations. Their projects include – a school in Ghana; a school boat service in the Philippines; Crisis response centres in the Ukraine and South Africa; Disaster aid in Bangladesh; rebuilding in the Philippines after typhoon Haiyan; medical testing on eyes and ears in India. The list goes on ………. In addition there are seafarers’ centres in ports around the world and the role of Port Chaplains and ship visitors cannot be underestimated.

In recent years the Society’s programme of work has expanded enormously helping seafarers and their families, giving both practical help and emotional support. The charity remains dedicated and committed to helping seafarers in time of need. None of this would be possible without the enormous funds raised by the many volunteers who freely give their time, skills and efforts to organise events. Whether it be a sedate afternoon tea, bag packing at the supermarket or car washing, to the more arduous marathon running, sponsored walks etc. or even more adventurous, abseiling or sky diving. All have their place in ensuring that funds are raised, enabling the Society to provide the necessary help in all its forms, to any seafarer in need.

The next meeting at the Town Hall will be on Wednesday July 4. You are most welcome to join us at 2pm for a talk by John Boon ‘Tales from a Registrar’. Refreshments will be served.