A place of welcome - all year round
Christmas is a special – but busy - time of year for Julie Hobby, the manager of the QVSR London Tilbury Seafarers Centre.
Established over 175 years ago as the Seamen’s Mission of the Methodist Church, the Queen Victoria Seamen’s Rest has a long history of serving those in need, both on land and at sea.
A season for reflection
“Christmas for me is a mixture of being busy working but, at the same time, ensuring I enjoy time with family and friends.
“My shift pattern means I will be working over the holiday season this year.
“However, I will get to have Christmas dinner with my family.
“As a Christian, Christmas is important, as we celebrate the birth of Christ.
“But I do love the lights, decorations too.”
“I joined QVSR in 2017.
“It was founded in 1843, in Poplar, by a Methodist minister, who would take newly arrived seafarers to church and give them food and accommodation.
“For some it could take days to get a new contract. With no safe space, they were often scammed out of money.
“I knew a bit about ‘the Mission’, as everyone local called it, but did not realise the importance of the centre, until I became part of the team.
“Our motto is ‘Seafarers first.’
“We work with the chaplains to provide a cohesive service to the seafarers.
“Leading a team of three, I am responsible for the centre’s day to day smooth-running.
“This involves everything from book-keeping, to driving the shuttle bus to local ports and jetties.”
A time for giving
“We rely on the regular help of over 40 volunteers, peaking in the run up to Christmas, when we begin preparing parcels to bring a bit of cheer for seafarers in port, and away from their loved ones over the festive period.
“This year, we have wrapped over 3,000 presents.
“The preparations start in January, when I get cards and wrapping paper in the sales.
“Through the year, I have volunteers writing cards and cutting Christmas paper to size.
“In August, I start to work out what I need, and then go out to groups, churches and companies for donations.
“It’s all a vast operation, dependent on the help of our great volunteers, including every year our good friends at the PLA.
“A particular shout out must go the army of knitters across the country, who provide hats, gloves and scarves as gifts for our seafarers.”
A year-round service
“The centre offers a wide range of services, including free WiFi, to enable seafarers to communicate with their loved ones back home.
“We’re on site from 1.30pm to 9.30pm daily, providing free tea and coffee.
"There’s a licensed bar, with hot food for sale too.
“We also offer 24-hour access to a crew room and outside area, including a well-used basketball court, which often doubles up as a soccer pitch and hosts barbecues in the summer.
“When in port, crew don’t always have enough time to visit London, so we have a shop selling souvenirs for them to take home, with sweets, snacks and toiletries also available."
The human touch
“The main thing for me though is providing a warm, human welcome, a place that feels safe and homely.
“The chance to engage and interact is something I know the seafarers value greatly.
“One of the nicest things is to see a seafarer curled up on the sofa, shoes off, talking to their family thousands of miles away - comfortable, happy and at home.
“Many of our them are regular visitors. It’s like seeing old friends.”
“We have many cultures in the centre.
“English is the international language of the sea, but sometimes phrases do get lost in translation, which can be funny.
“On a few occasions I have had to use Google translate. How did we ever manage without it?
“I have learnt to talk slower over the years too.”
“The river has always been a part of my life.
“Born in Osett Hospital, I grew up in Purfleet.
“The eldest of three children, I had wonderful parents. My childhood was a very happy one.
“Both my Dad and maternal Grandad were dockers. They were always talking about the Thames’ current and tides, warning me to be careful on the river’s edge.
“As a little girl my grandad would carry me on his shoulders and show me where he worked in Tilbury Docks.
“That would not happen now.”
“I attended West Thurrock Primary School and Aveley Comprehensive.
“I then trained to be a nursery nurse, a job I did for over ten years.
“Next, I spent more than two very happy decades working for BT and O2, learning many new skills, until I took volunteer redundancy.”
Reasons to be cheerful
“My life certainly has not turned out as I thought it would.
“I was widowed at a young age, but have always looked at all the blessings I have in my life, and try to live life to the fullest.
“I am very lucky. I have the best job.
“I love to meet the crew and feel I have in some way helped them to enjoy the time on shore.”
- The Thames in three words? Beautiful, dangerous, busy.
- Favourite spot on the river? I have fond memories of the view from beside the Royal Hotel in Purfleet looking over the river.
- Highlight of 2023? My niece getting married. She looked stunning. There’s nothing like a summer wedding in England!
Donations to support the work of QVSR at Tilbury can be made here. All are welcome to attend the centre’s carol concert on 18 December at 11am.