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The Royal Alfred Society: a shelter for seafarers since 1865

The origins of the Royal Alfred date back to a meeting held in July 1857 in Mansion House, London, when a group of influential and well-disposed people voted unanimously to establish a hospital for “worn-out and disabled merchant seamen”. That day, it vouched to open its doors to over 500 people in need.

“A hundred years ago there wasn’t a family in England that didn’t know somebody or had a relative who was a seafarer,” says home manager Anne Kasey.

“In those days, when the shipping companies didn’t employ them anymore, they were just left on the dockside or on the City streets. And because they were away for years at a time, rather than months, the family they had would, on the most part, disintegrate. So they didn’t have homes to go to, or any support mechanism, and there were a great deal of homeless merchant seafarers in desperate circumstances nationally.”

In the beginning, the place was run by a warden and the seafarers themselves, who used to do their own cooking, cleaning and gardening. Over time, as the residents became older and frailer, an infirmary was built in the grounds of the old stately home, followed by a new house where people could be nursed, should they need it.

Today, the Royal Alfred runs a state-of-the-art nursing home and specialised dementia care unit that houses up to 68 residents, 23 tenants and is supported by 107 staff members.

In 2011, the UK’s first specialist dementia centre for seafarers opened at Weston Acres as an extension of Belvedere House, after staff identified that 40% of residents at the time had some form of dementia. Today, the dementia care unit is centred on a single-storey annexe, providing 36 nursing rooms.

The Royal Alfred is run under Care Quality Commission legislation, whose latest audit in 2016 established a ‘Good’ level of care in all five key areas, accompanied by an outstanding written report that found no deficiencies.

The society’s success is rooted in its charity status, Kasey believes. “It’s very well supplied with equipment and staffing levels are high and I believe that is because we are a not for profit organisation,” she says.

“For those who spend the majority of their lives at sea, resettling back on shore can be extremely difficult.”

Maintenance grants come from diverse sources such as Seafarers UK, which every year runs the 24 Peaks Challenge, a fundraising event where volunteers sign up to climb 24 peaks in the Lake District, all over 2,400ft, in 24 hours. Others, such as Trinity House, the Merchant Navy Welfare Board and naval charities are also involved with the care home.

At its core, and after all these years, the society continues to operate with one sole purpose: to provide shelter and care to seafarers and their families, irrespective of their financial situation.

“In today’s world of political, digital and cyber issues, it is important to think of our people,” wrote chairman Captain Duncan Glass in the society’s 2016 annual report. “Those who we care for, those who support us in all we do and those who give freely of their time, experience and knowledge for many, many years. Seeking nothing in return.”

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