“Meeting some of the fishermen – there are some real characters out there!” Carol Elliott, SeaFit manager told Fishing News.

“Recently we held a health event with Dentaid, The Dental Charity, and one fisherman came out holding a tooth that had been extracted – which was a bit gruesome!”

SeaFit is a joint initiative run by the Fishermen’s Mission and the Seafarers’ Hospital Society. The initiative works with a range of charities and organisations to bring physical and mental health wellbeing clinics to quaysides across the UK.

Carol’s career in the voluntary sector started not in the fishing industry, but with the picking
up of a leaflet. “I’d gone with a friend to a festival, and I picked up a Voluntary Services Overseas leaflet. I then took it home and put it in a drawer for a couple of years.

“One day, when my son had gone off to university, I thought to myself: ‘There’s got to be more to life than just the nine- to-five.’ So I applied to become a volunteer. I had to go through a range of different interviews and psychometric testing, and in 2001 was lucky enough to be offered the chance to go to Cambodia.”

On the quayside with Fishermen’s Mission trustee Mark Stubbings and chief executive Marc Evans. “Fishermen in particular have had a really tough time over the past few years. Life isn’t getting easier for any of us, but with all the regulations and everything that’s going on in the industry, it’s becoming harder and harder for them to earn a living. Being able to support fishermen through SeaFit is just incredible – making services more accessible so that fishermen don’t have to take much time out for appointments, and they’re not losing money.”

Following six years working in Cambodia as a management adviser, Carol moved to Tanzania for a short-term consultancy role, before moving on to Mozambique and finally Uganda, where she worked on HIV/AIDS projects as a country director.

“I then decided that after nine years – after saying that I’d only be away for two years – I would come back to the UK.”

On her return, Carol continued working in the charity sector for a range of organisations including the Alzheimer’s Society and Age UK. Then, in 2019, she spotted a role with the Fishermen’s Mission. “I thought: ‘This looks really interesting.’ It’s not anything that I knew much about at the time.”

Four years into the role, and Carol’s impact is evident. SeaFit was shortlisted in the Fishing News Awards Service Provider of the Year category last year, and scooped the top accolade in the Health and Medical Research category at the prestigious Charity Health Awards this year.

“These awards are not about me – it’s about organisations working together to support fishermen,” she said.

“My role is to develop SeaFit so that we can take services to the quayside. I’m constantly looking for opportunities to network, and ways in which we can continue to develop.

“I cover the whole of the UK, and it means working with lots of different people. Many of them haven’t thought about how difficult it is for fishermen to have an appointment,” says Carol. “We all know how hard it is to make an appointment these days, but for fishermen to be able to access routine medical services and then keep an appointment is really tough.

“If you’ve had a couple of weeks of really bad storms, but have made an appointment to
go and see a dentist or a doctor, and then the weather turns out to be good, you have to prioritise being at sea to pay the bills over everything else.”

Carol at a recent SeaFit event in Portsmouth, talking with local councillors. “I’m still learning every day – about the different types of fishing, the different seasons, and how tide times and weather can affect when fishermen can go fishing and how much money they can earn – all of those things I’d never, ever thought of before joining the Fishermen’s Mission.”

The nature of Carol’s role means that ‘no two days are the same’. “Quite a bit of my time is spent sending emails out and making connections with local health services. Other parts of my time are organising and planning the SeaFit events and getting services to come along. I also promote those events on social media, and on our website.”

Those events can take Carol across the UK. “I’ve been to Northern Ireland, up to Peterhead and Fraserburgh. The next couple of weeks I will be going to Whitby, Scarborough and the Grimsby area. I could be down in Cornwall or going over to Jersey – I can be anywhere within the UK.

“That’s why I love what I do. It is so varied, and I get to see parts of the country that I probably would never have travelled to if it wasn’t for this job.”

Carol’s role also involves reacting to changes within the industry, and any possible impact on the health and wellbeing of fishermen. “One thing that is causing a huge amount of stress and anxiety at the moment is the introduction of the government’s ML5 medical requirements.

“We’re working with organisations that are taking GPs to the quayside to conduct those ML5 assessments – so it’s about us being able to trial different things. We’re always open to new ideas and suggestions to see if they work.”

Through Carol’s implementation of those ideas, alongside the dedication of Fishermen’s Mission port staff around the country, SeaFit is making a real difference to the lives of fishermen.

“When somebody comes and tells you that they don’t think they would still be here if it wasn’t for the support that we’ve given them, that really brings it home to you.

“All the awards in the world mean nothing compared to the fact that a fisherman has come and said: ‘If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be here.’”

More information on the SeaFit programme can be found on the Fishermen’s Mission website.

Alternatively, visit the Seafarers’ Hospital Society website here.

This story was taken from the latest issue of Fishing News. For more up-to-date and in-depth reports on the UK and Irish commercial fishing sector, subscribe to Fishing News here or buy the latest single issue for just £3.30 here

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