‘It was one of the most wonderful times of my life’ - Great Yarmouth port chaplain Peter Paine reveals his past while planning the future of the Seafarer’s Centre
- Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2014
When Great Yarmouth’s new Seafarers Centre opens in a few months time, it will be the culmination of almost a decade’s hard work and determination for the Rev Peter Paine.
It has been a long road for the port chaplain who has had to fight for funding, and at times, for his job.
But every time he is asked if the town really needs a seafaring centre in today’s world, Mr Paine will tell you - yes, it is integral and that is it his job to keep the doors open,
The herring industry that buoyed Yarmouth at the turn of the 20th century has disappeared but the town remains, and will be for a long time, a busy port.
Mr Paine estimates that 15,000 seafarers from across the world call into Yarmouth every year.
Most will have smart phones and social media to keep in touch with loved ones at home, but a Seafarers Centre is somewhere away from the ship’s deck, a place on dry land where they will all be welcome.
Mr Paine has experienced his fair share of travelling and believes the centre will be appreciated.
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Born and raised in Eastbourne in Sussex, the sea has always been in his life.
“You could see the forest from the back of the house, and the sea from the front room,” he said.
His parents met in India, where his mother was born and his sergeant father was serving with the RAF.
“I went to school down there but I thought I knew better than the teachers so I left at 15. I wanted to go on the P&O ships. I wanted to be a steward and that came from my love of the sea.”
After various jobs, including a summer working on the pleasure boats, Mr Paine turned his attention to the Armed Forces.
He went to London to sigh up but failed - thanks to a bout of Athlete’s foot.
“They told me to come back in six months time but, back then, six months sounded like a lifetime.
“I couldn’t wait so I worked at a hotel doing silver service.
“One day I was sitting on the boats talking to friends and they said, ‘Come on, you can’t do this your whole life. You love boats, do something about it’.”
He walked into an RAF recruiting office at Brighton the day before his 18th birthday - and served for 17 and a half years.
With the RAF, Mr Paine worked in Plymouth, Falmouth, Wales and three years in Cyprus.
“We were down at Limassol Port during the Turkish invasion,” he recalled. “Our job was looking after bombing ranges and we worked with Vulcans - beautiful aircraft. It was one of the most wonderful times of my life. I was 21.”
Returning to the UK in 1975, Mr Paine hoped for a posting to India so he could trace his family - he knew of a relative running a tea planation.
But his mother died and it “hit me hard,” he said.
Mr Paine instead went to RAF Pembrey on the Carmarthenshire coast in Wales where a new unit was being set up to keep watch over a bombing range close to a holiday park.
It was during his days off that Mr Paine began to practice more as a lay preacher - he has been an active Baptist since he joined the Boys Brigade.
It was also when he met his wife.
“I was looking for an English-speaking church,” he said. “I came across one about five miles away. I walked in, I saw this lady and I thought, ‘Well, well’.
He married Pat, “a Welsh girl, the eldest of four”, in 1981. She remains, said Mr Paine, his constant companion, offering advice and support when life takes a turn.
The family moved to Great Yarmouth in 1986 after his RAF company was axed and in 1989 he ventured into insurance - only to be made redundant soon after, eventually losing his house and seeing his family, including their new born baby, at risk of homelessness.
It was the kindness of a stranger - a woman who has since become part of their family - that changed Mr Paine’s life once more.
She knocked on their door and out of the blue offered them a place to stay. They moved into her Bradwell home, and Mr Paine found work as a driver.
“She was our guardian angel,” he said. “Eventually we got our council house in Great Yarmouth where we still live.”
He was, by this time, preaching in Yarmouth but it was during an Epiphany service at the Minster [St Nicholas] that the late Rev Chris Warner tapped him on the shoulder and said, ‘I’ve got a job offer for you’.
In 2004, Yarmouth’s Seafarers Centre shut due to lack of national funding. Mr Paine - who is also chaplain to offshore company Gardline and at James Paget University Hospital in Gorleston and in 2007 was ordained a minister at a special service at Yarmouth’s Town Hall - has worked ever since to secure funding to bring it back and, last year, was offered a building by port operator Eastport.
The new site is being refurbished and should be ready to open in spring.
“It’s been a long time coming,” he said.
“And it’s only the beginning.”