Sea Cadets show skils at Chapelfield

Emma Lee This weekend Sea Cadets from across the region will be dropping anchor in Norwich for SeaCadetFest. EMMA LEE takes a look at what’s in store.

Emma Lee

Norfolk and East Anglia have a long-held seafaring tradition. King's Lynn, Yarmouth and Lowestoft were nationally and internationally important ports. And, of course, Burnham Thorpe was the birthplace of the seafaring hero, Lord Nelson.

With that maritime heritage, it's great to know that the Sea Cadets have such a strong following in our part of the world - and this weekend they will be travelling to Norwich from units all over the region for SeaCadetFest.

Held at the Chapelfield shopping centre, the two-day celebration will see them showing off their skills, including knot-tying, indoor rowing, boat-rigging, first aid, stewardship and marine engineering, with visitors being able to try out many of the activities themselves.

There will also be hornpipe dancing, drills and band performances, the chance to scale the Royal Marines' climbing wall and information about Sea Cadets training opportunities and cook steward qualifications.

The Norwich unit, whose home is on the TS Lord Nelson, which is docked at Foundry Bridge near the railway station, has 30 cadets.

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Taking EDP2 on a tour of the ship, Norwich Sea Cadet chairman Irene Spinks explains a bit about its fascinating history. It's the sixth vessel to be used by the cadets in its history.

“It was built in 1973 for the Swedish Navy - and it's Norwegian built,” she says. “It would have been built during the Cold War. This would have been one of the vessels going round looking for mines. But at the end of the Cold War there wouldn't have been a huge need for it - you can actually buy them on ebay now.

“There are only about four units in the country that have floating headquarters and we decided to keep it on ship because it's a bit more exciting,” Irene says.

She says that young people will be travelling from as far afield as Stevenage for the event, which is supported by Chapelfield and Marks and Spencer. First aiders from Beccles will be passing on potentially lifesaving advice, and youngsters from Ipswich will be showing off their stewardship skills.

As well as raising funds for the Sea Cadets, which is a charity itself, proceeds will also be split between the Royal Marines Benevolent Fund, the Marine Society and the East Anglian Air Ambulance.

“There's also going to be a sponsored abseil - and I'm going to be the first one over the top. I said 'yes' when I thought it wouldn't get past the risk assessments, but it has,” Irene jokes.

“We're expecting between 150 and 200 cadets - there's 30 in Norwich, although some of them won't be there for the whole event as they are taking part in a national canoeing competition at the Excel centre in London on the Saturday.

“It's going to be a busy weekend for everybody,” Irene says.

The Sea Cadet movement dates back to the Crimean War when sailors returning home from the campaign formed Naval Lads' Brigades to help orphans in the back streets of sea ports.

Today there are almost 400 units, with about 13,000 members.

Its aim is to encourage good citizenship and provide worthwhile qualifications, experiences and adventures. Members learn valuable life skills while having fun and making friends. And it's not all about the sea. The enormous variety of activities ranges from canoeing, windsurfing and sailing to meteorology, music and IT, and also covers engineering, expedition training and marksmanship.

A small offshore fleet includes the flagship TS Royalist, a magnificent 29m square-rigged sailing brig which accommodates 24 cadets. Young people with no previous offshore experience become the vessel's working crew and can often find themselves spending the night in harbours in Belgium, France or the Channel Islands.

“I started here because of my daughter - Sea Cadets is one of those things that tends to become a family activity. She started when she was 10 and now she's a sub-lieutenant,” Irene says.

As well as being great fun, Sea Cadet training has proved the springboard for many young peoples' careers.

“The Sea Cadets isn't a pre-service organisation, but once they have got on this path, some of our cadets do think that's what they want to do. Several cadets have gone on to become serving members of the Royal Navy, the forces and the police. And our leading cadet, Tom Hunt, is leaving to join the Navy,” Irene says.

t For further details visit the Sea Cadets online at www.ms-sc.org.