Volunteers at The Haven centre are celebrating seven years of service to the seafarers whose ships visit the port of Montrose.
Over these years, thousands of seamen and women have used the facilities offered at The Haven, on Meridian Street, where they have been able to get in touch with their families and friends on the other side of the world, using the telephone and Internet services.
Peter Donald, The Sailors Society port chaplain, said: “Ships arrive in Montrose from all parts of the globe and the crews have often been unable to contact home for several weeks, so they are delighted to find our centre right at the dock gates.
“Thanks to a brilliant team of volunteers from the Montrose churches, the centre is open for their use every day of the year.”
The crews on ships today are from many different countries and Mr Donald has encountered men and women of 78 different nationalities, from Cuba and Kiribati to Chile and China.
“The biggest number are probably from the Philippines and Russia. On a busy night we may have three rooms occupied as they chatter excitedly with their wives and children.
“If they are on Skype they will often ask us to say hello to their families, and they introduce us as their new Scottish friends,” he said.
A recent Filipino visitor, Jun, had not been able to ‘phone home for some weeks, and his wife had given birth to a baby during that time.
Mr Donald said: “Thanks to modern technology he was able to get his first glimpse of his new son on a computer screen at The Haven, and he immediately captured the picture with his mobile ‘phone camera. He now has a permanent and precious image to take away with him, and to proudly display to his friends on the ship.”
He added: “Seafarers may be away from home for up to a year at a time, and they experience isolation and loneliness, as well as the constant demands and dangers of their profession. They give up their own home comforts for their families sake, and they receive very little recognition for the sacrifices they have made.
“We like to think that their memories of Montrose will be of a town that cares about them and makes them know they have not been forgotten.”
In recent months, the centre has been a lifeline for the Filipinos whose families and homes were affected by the tornado, which wrought havoc in their islands, and more recently for the Ukrainians who were desperate to know what was happening in their troubled homeland.
The hospitality on offer at the centre includes the supply of woolly hats, warm clothing, books and magazines, teas and coffees, and the much appreciated sweets and chocolate biscuits.
But nothing is beyond the resource of the teams on duty - two Norwegian stewardesses whose uniforms were the wrong size found an able seamstress on duty, who took their outfits home and made the necessary adjustments, much to the girls’ delight.
Mr Donald said: “Very often the highlight of their time with us has been the chance to share their worries and concerns with our volunteers, who always offer a sympathetic listening ear. Just getting things off their chest appears to give them a great sense of relief, and they will go back to their ship with a big smile on their face.”
No charges to the visitors are made for The Haven services, so all running costs have to be met from the local community, which Mr Donald said has always been “extremely generous”.
He said: “There are no paid staff, but the electricity and telephone charges are considerable, so there is a constant need for financial support.”
There will be a fund-raising coffee morning in the Old and St Andrew’s Church hall on Saturday (March 29), which will also give members of the public an opportunity to hear more stories about the ongoing relationship between the town and the sea.
Mr Donald would like to hear from anybody wishing to make a kind donation or who is interested in any other aspect of The Haven activities.
He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 07833 140202.