Since being formed in 1917 as King George’s Fund for Sailors, Seafarers UK remains the leading grant-making charity that helps people in the maritime community, by providing vital funding to support seafarers in need and their families. The charity supports organisations and projects that make a real difference to people’s lives across the Merchant Navy, Fishing Fleets, Royal Navy and Royal Marines. Grants of £2.5 million per annum are awarded to 100+ maritime welfare charities.
As an ‘island nation’ the UK depends on its seafarers to defend its shores, trade with other countries and import essential fuel and food. The job of a seafarer is therefore vital, but also demanding and hazardous with a much greater chance of injury than many other professions. A large number of those serving will be facing problems of very different kinds; long periods of separation from friends and family, extended periods of duty, fatigue, and working heavy machinery whilst being exposed to harsh weather.
Such dangers and difficulties can lead to disability, depression, debt, relationship breakdown, homelessness or even death. Seafarers UK’s funding enables seafarers to access advice and information, adapt to life on shore, re-train and find new employment. It also improves their quality of life by helping to provide the essentials of daily living that a small pension (or none) cannot cover. Often it may be the family of a seafarer who has been injured, held hostage or who has subsequently died that require assistance.
Because Seafarers UK works closely with all of the organisations that support seafarers and their dependants, the charity can target donations where they will make the biggest difference. Seafarers UK receives no government funding and relies on donations and fundraising to be able to carry on providing long-term aid. Without this, there simply wouldn’t be the level of support it is able to provide today and that each year gives hope and help to over 170,000 seafarers and their families when they need it most.
Seafarers UK runs several very successful challenge events. Their most successful is the 24 Peaks Challenge which has run since 2006. This is probably one of the most demanding and exhilarating mountain events organised as a charity challenge and the ultimate team building experience. In the beautiful surroundings of the Lake District teams of up to 6 people climb 24 peaks, all over 2,400 feet in just 24 hours. In addition to the physical challenge, each team is asked to raise a minimum of £4,000 which is then used to provide essential support to those in need within the maritime community.
The First World War took a terrible toll on merchantmen and warships: in one fortnight in 1917 many thousands of sailors and over 400,000 tons of shipping were lost. Many of those men had a family to support, and towards the end of the war many small charitable organisations were set up to support the injured and bereaved.
In the City of London, far-sighted ship-owners and officers realised that what was most needed was an umbrella organisation that could take a realistic overview of the need and direct resources to where they were needed. They set up a Fund for that purpose and His Majesty George V took a deep and immediate interest, giving both his name and an establishing donation of £5000 to the new organisation.
During subsequent conflicts, and in the intervening years of peace, King George's Fund continued to provide both immediate and long-term support to the casualties of war, and to others who have paid a high price for a life at sea.
They have always supported veterans, the injured and the bereaved, but were set up as an umbrella charity to attend to the needs of the whole maritime community. In the modern world that means we deal with homelessness, unemployment, the strain on separated families, the poverty and hardship that afflict shoreline communities when fish stocks dwindle and merchant vessels grow too large for local docks.
In 2005 the Fund changed its name to Seafarers UK.