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
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
“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.”