Queen’s Honours: Steering East End’s seamen’s mission for 17 years gets Alexander Cambell an OBE
PUBLISHED: 15:44 13 October 2020 | UPDATED: 16:49 13 October 2020
The guiding light at the Queen Victoria Seamen’s Rest in Poplar for the past 17 years has been honoured in the Queen’s Birthday List.
Alexander Campbell, its chief executive who took the helm in 2003, has been given an OBE.
He mingles with the good and the great such as royalty to raise the funds for his mission and even has Princess Alexandra as his royal patron.
Showbiz stars are among his regular visitors to the East India Dock Road like former seafarer-cum-rock star Tommy Steele, turning 84 in December, who was knighted in this week’s Honours List.
Alexander got both Tommy and the Princess Alexandra down to open different stages of the mission’s development.
“You feel overwhelmed when you’re named in the Queen’s Honours,” he tells the East London Advertiser.
“There are a lot more people out there just as deserving, but I’m grateful to receive it for the team at the mission as I’m at the helm.”
The proud Scotsman got involved in the East End two decades ago and hasn’t looked back since.
“The East End teaches you to reach out people,” he explains. “The whole East End is a vibrant and diverse community from different cultures and religions all look after each other.
“We had no money when I started, not knowing how to achieve what we were setting out to do to help those in need and the homeless. So we went cap in hand to whoever we could meet, asking people and organisations for money.”
He tapped into the worlds of royalty and showbiz like TV’s Barbara Windsor, an East Ender herself who starred in BBC’s EastEnders soap as landlady of its fictitious Queen Vic pub.
Barbara, who was given a damehood in 2016, came down to the real Queen Victoria in Poplar when Alexander got her to cut the ribbon on one of its development phases.
“We made a thing of it,” he recalls. “The ‘landlady’ of the EastEnders’ ‘Queen Vic’ coming down to the real East End and the real Queen Vic mission!”
Alexander at 54 leads the Seamen’s Mission and its ongoing £7million expansion programme with “a new vision and direction” while continuing its 175 years as champion to the seafarer both active and retired.
His personal mission is helping the marginalised find a route “back into the heart of society”.
But it’s not gone without recognition. He received the Merchant Navy Medal in 2014.
Nor is he sitting on his laurels. He is on the board of the Merchant Navy War Memorial Society and is a member of the Merchant Navy Welfare Board, while also chairing three other organisations including the Methodist Ministers Housing Society.
But there’s a special place he nurtures, being on the board of the Tilbury Seafarers centre which is close to his home in the Essex village of Orsett, where he lives with his wife Ruth and their three children.
Most of the old Port of London activity has shifted down to Tilbury. So he has steered the mission’s work in Poplar to include Tilbury’s seafaring community which he sees as “the new Port of London”.
It’s Alexander’s personal mission to take them on board.
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