Seafarer’s welcome to refurbished mission

Chair Jeff Law. Photo: Daniel Hines.

The united Seafarer’s Mission has had such a spruce up in recent times, people are walking out thinking they are in the wrong place.

Mission chair Jeff Law says the place had become “tatty” and outdated

“It was very dark and quite gloomy and we wanted to spruce it up.

He says some of the ship workers have almost walked out of the mission, thinking they were in the wrong place as they didn’t recognise it.

“We have had all of the internal walls clad, it’s been painted, there’s new carpet and all of the money was donated for the entire job.”

The renovation started in March and it took about four months to complete.

“The difficult part is the place has had to remain operating the entire time, because we are open seven days a week, 366 days a year if it’s a leap year, from 11 in the morning until 9 at night, so the builders had to work around us and we had to work around them.

“We had two builders, because the days are gone when we can have volunteers working who are our age. The builders, who were self-employed, did it at a good hourly rate, and they were extremely cooperative as we designed it as we went along.

“We also had two self-employed painters and the carpet was donated by Morris and Hilary McFall, which was $10,000.”

Not only does the revamp make the facility more practical and enjoyable, it also is now a more positive environment for the seafarers to be in. Jeff says part of their plans included having neutral colours on the walls and carpet and adding bright coloured furniture.

“One of the last things you want for a seafarer centre is the colour scheme this place had before, which was all blues and yellows, because that’s what they see on the ship.

“I had a guy come in here once and said: ‘I thought I was off the ship?’ So we were trying to avoid that.”

The main focus of the new and improved Tauranga Seafarer’s Mission facility reflects the meaning of Tauranga Moana – a safe haven and a good anchorage, in which two lounges are named.

 Jeff and his team want to provide a place for seafarers to relax, be comfortable, to catch up with loved ones and to seek advice if they have any problems.

“Our attitude is not trying to make a place that is nice to work in, it’s a place for the seafarer to feel at home,” says Jeff.

The volunteers at the seafarers’ mission aim to make life a little easier for the seafarers, whether that’s taking them to Bayfair if they need to pick something up, by providing a chaplain if they want to talk, or making them a cup of coffee.

Jeff says the maritime industry had the worst record for industrial suicides so it is important for them to take good care of the seafarers coming through.

“That is an awful stat for any industry. But you’ve got to remember, these guys normally sign a nine month contract, which means they are away from home for probably ten months by the time they leave home, fly to whatever port to pick up the ship, get on the ship and come home again.”

Not only has Jeff and his team made the mission a physically comfortable place, they also provide free wireless internet, Bibles, books, magazines, tea and coffee, Sky TV and sim cards.

Seafarers have access to phone top-ups, snacks, beanies and foreign exchange which they have to pay for.

The main features of the revamp include a smaller, more intimate chapel, a freshened-up games room, two bright relaxing lounge areas with couches, tables, pianos and computers, as well as a new kitchen and office.

 “A lot of the seafarers use their top-ups for when they go back on the ship to talk to their families, so we offer a lot of services and most things are free,” Jeff says.

Jeff says without the donations, the refurbishment wouldn’t have happened. The Bay of Plenty Seafarers Trust, The TK Foundation, Morris and Hilary McFall, the Mission to Seafarers, Apostleship to the Sea and the Galilee Mission all donated and made a significant contribution to the revamp, which he and the other volunteers are ever so grateful for.