Project Report 2016
The Watch Ashore has been supporting merchant navy families since 1933 and like most organisations it has seen its membership wane and decline, going from, in its’ heyday with hundreds of members and 16 branches throughout the UK, to now just five/six active branches.
We were given a fantastic opportunity working with the Merchant Navy Welfare Board. Using a grant from the Merchant Navy Fund, short training courses in the use of social media were provided in a project that aimed to help the organisation raise its profile, improve its outreach and increase its membership.
Following on from my report at last year's AGM, you know the funding was granted in Sept 2014 and the subsequent courses took place in the training suite of the MNWB offices. In total 8 members have been inducted and although we did have more volunteers the dates of the training courses didn't fit in with their other commitments. Our volunteers come from Yorkshire, Scotland , Cornwall and Devon.
In October 2014 the first group of Watch Ashore members travelled to Southampton to attend one of three proposed training courses on Social Media, Welfare Guidance and Signposting. We were all given Samsung Tablets for the project and the first challenge facing us was how to use them! Fortunately they were all set up and ready to go. It certainly was a baptism of fire and boy did we feel apprehensive. The one thing we were not short on was enthusiasm and slowly we got to grips with Facebook and less confidently with Twitter. It certainly has been a very steep learning curve as we embraced the “social media world”.
The re-vamped website has been up and running since last March 2015 and we are continually reviewing it and making adjustments to improve as necessary. As well as giving advance notice and information about fundraising events and celebrations organised by the different maritime charities, we have blogs from members, branch news and links to various support networks. Through the website we were approached by a London PR Agency who had been commissioned to do a report for the Royal Merchant Navy Education Foundation. Various subjects such as Schools, health, family, financial and communications were covered and some of the points that we submitted were included in the report. The Bridge Report was published in September and if nothing else, it gets us mentioned along with Maritime Charities and reached a very wide audience.
We have had various contacts via the website and some, like the one previously mentioned, have been very productive. We have made The Watch Ashore visible on social media although over the years both at Branch and National level, the Watch Ashore has supported and raised funds for many Maritime Charities – (Mission to Seafarers, Apostleship to the Sea, Sailors Society, Seafarers UK and Deep Sea Fishermen to mention a few). We have strengthened these ties, whilst making new ones, with the other various Maritime charities, notably with the NFF, and in general have made ourselves known to the wider maritime community. We worked very closely with Find the Sea Families campaign, Sailors Children Society and now have well established working relationship with them.
What has become obvious with younger seafaring families, is that the feeling of isolation, and others not understanding the seafaring way of life, is still relevant today but due to lifestyles, work commitments our more formal way of meeting up doesn’t appeal anymore and this is where using social media has given The Watch Ashore a lifeline to continue offering support and friendship to merchant navy families.
We all have friends who fit into different groups. They might be neighbours, school friends, work colleagues, family etc. With social media an intrinsic part of everyday life, friendship groups or meetings still play an important role in supporting the partners of seafarers through the good work of The Watch Ashore. We think the need for that type of group is still very relevant today. With our hectic fast paced lifestyles, it is good to stop and take time for yourself, socialising with someone who knows the ups and downs of life with a seafarer. Since Watch Ashore have started using social media we have gained some new younger members, like Mila who has joined the Plymouth branch. Mila, whose husband is in the RFA, has recently become a British Citizen and we are delighted to have her join us. Carole and Ashley are also new members, who live in Scotland and because they, and some other new members, don’t live near a branch we try to meet up every couple of months for lunch/drinks and in between times keep in touch via our closed facebook group.
We want to recruit more members to the Watch Ashore, and hopefully share the joy, friendship and support that we have enjoyed. It can be a lonely frustrating lifestyle but we are here to offer support and social media is a contemporary way to respond to the needs of seafarers families. At the start of this project our aims were to raise our profile within the wider maritime communities, reach out to younger seafaring families, and hopefully increase our membership. Although our funding has come to an end we will continue to raise our profile and offer friendship and support to all seafaring families.
The MNWB and AMB Marketing, has given us the tools, knowledge and encouragement to reach out via social media channels, and also the confidence to keep improving on the success we have achieved so far. The Watch Ashore can never thank them, or The Merchant Navy Fund, enough for giving us the opportunity to raise our profile and hopefully ensure that The Watch Ashore has a brighter future.
The Facebook page was set up as an awareness tool to let people know about us and to share information. It has been very successful and feedback from people and other organisations, who have liked our page, is that they find it friendly and informative. We get weekly status reports and regularly reached over 300 viewings a week. Sometimes other viewings and likes hit nearly a thousand as was the case when we highlighted the British Legion not inviting MN WW1 veterans to participate in the Festival of Remembrance.
As you will appreciate we are constantly reviewing how we can improve or adapt our social media presence and one significant change is that we now have a closed Facebook group. This has only happened in the last few months as feedback from prospective and new members, taking into account current lifestyles and their familiarity with social media, the forum wasn’t working for them and as the focus was engaging and attracting younger members we had to address this issue and the Watch Ashore Members Group was created. Using the closed group as opposed to the forum means no cost involved and it is easy to manage and promote, any member can join the group either by requesting or by invitation from a current member.
We were less confident about this and it took a while to feel comfortable posting tweets etc. After a slow start I am delighted to say that we have a well established presence on Twitter. We have regular followers and every day we tweet and retweet comments. One of the contacts via our twitter page is from Carl Hough who does the remembrance pins. We also get private messages via the site and of course support and promote maritime charities in whatever campaign is current. For example:- Woolly Hat Day. Seafarers Awareness Week. Came by Ship. Merchant Navy Day. #JustSaying the new campaign from Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen.
We also use other social media sites such as Instagram, Google+, snapchat, What’s App and really it is the choice of the volunteer which media she prefers.
Signposting and Guidance.
Obviously because of confidentiality I can’t disclose personal details but I can tell you that through various social media channels we have been able to reach out and help families we are fulfilling our aims, we have also referred people to Seafarer Support, SAIL and various other agencies.
In conclusion I think we have achieved our objectives of raising The Watch Ashore profile, working closer with the maritime community and have gained new members. I have thoroughly enjoyed being part of this project and would like to thank everyone involved for all their help and support.