Brixham’s Fish Mish supports those in Devon’s most dangerous job

In Brixham it’s known simply as the Fish Mish – but to most people the charity which supports fishermen and their families is better known as the Fishermen’s Mission.

The work of the Fishermen’s Mission sadly only hits the headlines during times of terrible tragedy and shipwreck, when Mission staff step in to comfort and the fishermen and women and their families. Sadly fishermen in Britain have a one in 20 chance of being killed on the job during the course of their working lives – it is the UK’s most dangerous profession.

But behind the scenes, the work of the FishMish carries on year in and year out: never more so in Brixham than during the last year when the Mission has been helping not only fishermen affected by the sinking of the Joanna C with the loss of two lives – but by the impact of Coronavirus which often stopped them being able to put to sea.

The Mission’s Devon area officer Sarah Dorsett said: “The Joanna C was a desperate tragedy and people lost their lives. In those two weeks we had a tremendous amount of calls about so many complex issues.

“Some people called merely to have a conversation because they had been touched by sadness. Others were people who had lost a relative at sea many years ago and called to say how much the Mission had supported them at that time and they wanted to give a donation for the help they were given.

“People called from all over the country, many lived nowhere near the sea but they still had connections through their families.”

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Sarah Dorsett, The Fishermens Mission Devon area officer
Sarah Dorsett, The Fishermens Mission Devon area officer
(Image: The Fishermen’s Mission)

Sarah covers all of the fishing ports in Devon – and although Brixham is by far the biggest in Devon, and lands more catch than other ports around the UK, it is only one of 15 which Sarah covers around the county and neighbouring Dorset.

“My role covers the whole of Devon – it’s not just about Brixham,” Sarah said. “Brixham is the largest of the Devon fishing ports and we have a lot of fishermen and their families living here, so the natural connection in people’s minds is that it’s the Brixham mission.

“My main ambition in the next few months is to go out and make contacts. As lockdown eases we have prepared an information pack to reach out to the harbourmasters at all 15 ports.

“We are trying to raise awareness about the work of the Mission at the moment. Our role is to provide outreach to families – and give them support and welfare. They can be retired, older fishing families or fishermen’s partners, wives and widows. They can be wealthy or not wealthy. It can be for fishermen’s children who are away at university. It’s all-embracing – for fishermen and their families wherever they are. Some of them don’t know that the Mission is here to help them.

Fishing boats in Brixham harbour
Fishing boats in Brixham harbour
(Image: Keith Rossiter)

“We have really good training so we can find help for everything from dental check-ups to mental health; financial advice and rent arrears; replacing white goods or getting vouchers for food banks or top ups for gas and electric meters.

“We offer a befriending service. We can help with grants, for things like children who need new school uniform.

“The important thing is that our work comes with no stigma. And over the last year every single query has been dealt with quickly and efficiently, despite Covid.

“We work together with other charities – like the Shipwrecked Mariners’ Society and SAIL, which is like the Citizens Advice Bureau for Seafarers and runs an information and advice line.”

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The 15 fishing ports in the Devon Mission’s area are:

  • Appledore
  • Beer
  • Brixham
  • Clovelly
  • Dartmouth
  • Exmouth
  • Ilfracombe
  • Lyme Regis and Portland (Devon/Dorset)
  • Paignton
  • Plymouth
  • Salcombe
  • Sidmouth
  • Teignmouth
  • Torquay
  • Weymouth (Devon/Dorset)

Difficulties of the last year during the Covid-19 pandemic

“With Corona, some people have not been able to go to sea. If somebody tests positive on a fishing vessel they have to isolate. They don’t work. Or if a partner or child tests positive then they have to isolate and cannot work. Then other members of the crew have to isolate and can’t work. It has been a very difficult time for the fishing industry.”

The pandemic has also changed the way the Mission itself works – like the rest of the world, more of its contacts have been via phone and email. But for the older generation of fishing families, many still don’t use the internet and have found this difficult.

It has also hit donations. Traditionally people dig deep into their pockets to fill the iconic ‘Albert’ collection boxes which are commonplace on shop counters and bars around Devon.

The iconic Albert collection boxes
The iconic Albert collection boxes

But because of the closure of many establishments over the last year, and the move to cashless payments, donations have dropped dramatically.

The Fishermen’s Mission iconic collection box is called Albert. Nobody is really certain how Albert got his name, but it may have been as a tribute to Prince Albert, beloved husband of Queen Victoria who was the first royal patron of the Fishermen’s Mission.

Another possibility is that the original was named after the many ‘Alberts’ who came to these shores, and particularly Brixham, in the Second World War.

“What we do know is that Albert epitomises all that is good about the brave fishermen who catch the fish we love to eat,” Sarah said. “Steadily holding on to the ship’s wheel and resplendent in his fisherman’s oilskin, Albert is here to help his fellow fishermen and their families who need a little extra help. The Fishermen’s Mission and Albert work together to support the men and women who do the UK’s most dangerous job.”

History of the Mission at Brixham

The former Fishermen's Mission at Overgang in Brixham.
The former Fishermen’s Mission at Overgang in Brixham.

The Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen began during the sailing smack years, when men of the Christian faith dedicated their lives to helping fishermen and their families in troubled times.

Queen Victoria supported the charity and the port’s first centre in Brixham on The Strand was founded through a personal bequest in her will.

As far as Brixham harbour was concerned the Mission became established back in the 1920s and the original building on the Strand closed.

Superintendent Paul Jarrett resurrected the Fishermen’s Mission and the Overgang Mission opened on the harbourside.

Encouraged by locals like Margaret Kimble, Marcel Gallin, Ken Browse, Trawler Agents gaffer Malcolm Cooke, and many others, Supt Jarrett looked on the fleet as his flock, often visiting sick or injured trawlermen. Mr Jarrett would offer advice or assistance to fishermen with financial problems and also watch over the ladies running the Mission’s friendly cafe.

On Sundays, an evening service would convey the true meaning of Christianity in the warmest sense of the word.

Tremendous organisation by the Mission committee went into each year’s open day and trawler race. Thousands of pounds was collected for various local charities and Torbay’s tourist industry quietly reaped the benefits of countless ‘spenders’, flocking to the friendly Westcountry harbourside to become involved, if only for the day, with the fishing community.

The Mission at Overgang was put up for sale in 2013 for £300k and closed in 2014.

Today its offices are more tucked away from the noisy hubbub of the harbour, in an office at Brixham Laboratory at Freshwater Quay.

Awards for Devon volunteers

Its annual Volunteer Fundraising Awards had to be held virtually for the second year running – and there were three Devon winners.

The global pandemic meant a very difficult 2020 for fishermen and the fishing industry with restaurants and markets closed. Despite that Ben King and his team at Pesky Fish asked his customers to support the fishermen directly by donating to the Fishermen’s Mission following the tragic loss of the Joanna C and raised over £4,500.

Ben King and his team at Pesky Fish raised £4,500 following the sinking of the Joanna C
Ben King and his team at Pesky Fish raised £4,500 following the sinking of the Joanna C

Another £2k was raised by Brixham fisherman Darren Passmore. Mission director Alison Godfrey said: “Some folk go to extraordinary lengths to help support us and none more so than Darren.”

Darren decided to lose weight and support the Fishermen’s Mission at the same time.

Shedding the pounds was hard enough under lockdown, but Darren bravely put himself in the public spotlight with a weekly ‘weigh-in’ bulletin on social media. He not only met his goal but raised more than £2,000 at the same time.

Darren Passmore, winner of the Fundraiser of the Year Award.
(Image: The Fishermens Mission)

Director of Business Development for the Fishermen’s Mission, Alison said: “We have been deeply moved by the efforts of so many people this year who have gone the extra mile to help continue to raise the money needed to provide our services.”

The charity has always had a close relationship with the Fish and Chip industry, and the team at Kingfisher Fish

and Chips based in Plymouth often accompanies The Mission to fundraise at many events, most notably on National Fish and Chip Day, parking up outside Trinity House in London and serving fish and chips to passing cabbies from six in the morning! Over the years the Kingfisher team has donated more than £4,000 towards and they were the winners of the Fish and Chip Shop of the Year Award 2020.

Contact Sarah Dorsett at The Fishermen’s Mission by telephone on 01803 859 123 or email at BrixhamCentre@fishermensmission.org.uk

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