Chris Carolan on board the Willdora.
Chris Carolan on board the Willdora. Copyright: JPIMedia Resell

Sunderland Maritime Heritage has been honoured with the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service which is the highest award a voluntary group can receive in the UK.

What a time it is for the group to receive it. It comes as the country marks the 80th anniversary of Dunkirk, and one of the group’s boats played a huge role in the 1940 evacuation.

But it also comes at a time when SMH needs the public to help with donations to make sure the group can keep going.

Inside the Sunderland Maritime Heritage base.
Inside the Sunderland Maritime Heritage base

It has launched a Go Fund Me drive for support and a statement said: “In December, Sunderland Maritime Heritage (SMH) will have been in existence for 20 years, but currently only has enough funds to last until September. We urgently need donations to enable us to survive.”

SMH officials are hoping to raise £10,000 and the total currently stands at just on £1,500 on the page at where donations are encouraged.

Sunderland Maritime Heritage celebrates its 20th anniversary in December this year and is run by unpaid volunteers. The centre offers an interactive heritage experience for all with a workshop area demonstrating boatbuilding, woodworking and engineering skills.

It has a visitor centre which illustrates the development of Sunderland’s 600-year history in ship building and associated trades. It also has the Willdora.

Eighty years ago, Motor Fishing Vessel (MFV) Willdora was one of around 850 private boats which sailed from England across the Channel to help rescue more than 336,000 British and French troops who were trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk in the Second World War.

Later in her life, she fell into disrepair, leading to Sunderland Maritime Heritage’s involvement to restore her back to her original glory.  But Willdora is just one of many projects that the society is working on in its bid to promote and maintain Sunderland’s maritime history.

The Dunkirk ship Willdora with Chris Carolan beside it.
The Dunkirk ship Willdora with Chris Carolan beside it. Copyright: JPIMedia Resell

Another of its superb projects is its 1/10 scale model of 18th century gun ship HMS Venerable.

And volunteers have three projects awaiting their return after lockdown …. a naval cutter, a traditional sheltie boat and a foy coble.

But SMH can only keep on going if funds keep coming in.

A group spokesman said ‘volunteers are from all walks of life including the unemployed, retirees, persons with special needs, those on the autistic spectrum and those with early onset Alzheimer’s - all of which have something very special to offer the Sunderland Maritime Heritage Centre experience’.

Sunderland Maritime Heritage is one of 230 charities, social enterprises and voluntary groups to receive the prestigious award this year.

Representatives of Sunderland Maritime Heritage will receive the award from Mrs Susan M Winfield, OBE, Lord Lieutenant of Tyne & Wear later this summer.

And two representatives of the group will attend a garden party at Buckingham Palace in May 2021, along with other recipients of this year’s Award.

Chairman of the Sunderland Maritime Heritage Board of Trustees, Christopher Carolan said: “We are all very proud that we have been given this award and would like to thank Sunderland Council, C-Tec, the Sir James Knott Trust, the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Sir John Priestman Trust and all our visitors and members who have supported us over the years.

“We would not have flourished without your help.”

Trustee/secretary Linda Merritt said; “The centre is closed at the moment, but we hope to be able to allow our volunteers back in small work groups by the end of the month.”

Outside of lockdown, the group hosts visits by school children and provides work placement opportunities for college students.

It would also love to hear from anyone interested in becoming a volunteer.  To find out more, visit Sunderland Maritime Heritage on Facebook, or email

And there is another way that people can give their support. To make a donation, visit

This news item was taken from the Sunderland Echo, 2 Jun 20

Find out more about Sunderland Maritime Heritage, one of our Shipshape Network North East projects here.