When the Maritime Charities Funding Group published research on the future needs of seafarers, the Royal Alfred Seafarers' Society thought it knew what to expect. The number of seafarers has been declining for years, so it expected the demand for the support offered by maritime charities to be in decline too.
"The Merchant Navy is not what it was, and the Royal Navy has been cut, cut and cut for years," says Commander Brian Boxall-Hunt, chief executive of the society, which cares for former seafarers in their old age.
But to his surprise, the research, Supporting Seafarers and their Families: Challenges for the Future, confounded expectations. "It found that the number of seafarers in need was to stay constant over the next 20 years because many ex-seafarers were coming through the system," he says.
The findings prompted the society's managers to review the services the society provides and think about what else it should offer. One need stood out: care for former seafarers with dementia. "Because many seafarers lack social networks and are away for long periods, we felt there was a need to provide dementia support," says Boxall-Hunt. "With more than a million people expected to have been diagnosed with dementia by 2025, it is essential that most care homes, not just those in the maritime charity care sector, adapt to the growing demand for dedicated dementia treatment and provide for the inevitable influx of patients."
To provide the new service, the charity needed a new, dedicated annex to Belvedere House, its main residential care home near Banstead in Surrey. But because the home is in a green belt area, the society knew it had to manage the planning application process carefully. Boxall-Hunt says pragmatism underpinned the charity's approach.
"We needed to be realistic about what we could achieve," he says. "There was no point deciding to build a 50-bed annex because, being in a green belt, there was zero chance of getting planning permission. We engaged a planning consultant to help us through the planning minefield and we prepared thoroughly to make sure we made our case watertight."
The society also went on a local charm offensive. "We went out and explained what we were doing and invited people to come and see what was going on before we sought planning permission," he says. "That got a lot of people on side and limited the number of objections. This and our preparation helped us get the permission for the annex, which should open early next year."