When Rev George Ayoma was first asked to take up the position of Baptist minister in Fleetwood, he had to ask where it was.
At the time George, who is also superintendent of Fleetwood Fishermen’s Mission, was living and working in Scotland, as minister of the Baptist church in Nairn.
He said things have changed so much for Fleetwood in the last seven or eight years, particularly through the rise of Fleetwood Town Football Club, and if he was moving here now, there would be no need to ask where it was.
As chaplain of the town’s football club, George has an important and essential role to play.
He said: “Chaplaincy at the club is still a new role for me.
“I stepped in after Len Preston died, but Len’s position in everything he did was almost at honorary level, and it’s difficult to slot into the role of such an important figure.
“However, at the same time it has made it easier.
“There was once a chance of the chaplaincy role being overlooked at the club, but having been approached by club vice-chairman Phil Brown saying how they were looking for a chaplain I was happy to fulfil the role.
“I work closely with Phil, and my role really is to provide a presence in the club with pastoral care and looking after the personal welfare of club members and the team.
“They need to feel they have someone there, but it has to be non-intrusive. It’s a very spiritual role and also nondescript, yet it is absolutely essential. The players may never feel the need to speak to me, but because they know I am there it gives reassurance.
Born and raised in Kenya, George decided to move to the UK in 1994 with the international organisation Youth With A Mission.
He had already headed an orphanage while in Kenya, but he knew his life was destined for ministry work and he decided to move overseas to continue his quest.
After a short stay in Norfolk with friends, he moved to Nairn, where he first learned about the Baptist religion which inspired his next move.
He said: “I had a sense of vocation and I did feel the need to do something which engaged with people at a spiritual level.
“I had never belonged to the Baptist church before moving to Scotland, but having been to church in Saltcoates and engaging with the congregation there, I decided to join, I enjoyed it.
He came to Fleetwood in 2007 to take up his new post at the church in Dronsfield Road, with his wife Angela, who is a nurse at Blackpool Victoria Hospital, and their son Samuel, 11.
He added: “As a Baptist minister I don’t have a parish, I have a congregation, which is much broader and accessible to the wider community.
“Fleetwood is a very unique place because of its families and its close community aspect, specifically in terms of its fishing background.
“It’s a very close community, but has an amazing ability to breathe in and breathe out to welcome new people to the community.
“And that strides back to the docks when trawlers from other ports sailed in. Some crewmen stayed, married here and became part of the town.
“Part of a minister’s role is to have the ability to assess an environment. My work with the Fishermen’s Mission enables me to travel all round the country, and there is no where else like it. Fleetwood is an absorbing, fluid and flexible community that people always feel at home here.
“The players here at the football club are not from Fleetwood, but they feel a part of the town and when they are cheered on, they feel like it is their friends.”
George has immersed himself in community work and is a past president of Fleetwood Rotary Club and also a governor at Fleetwood High School.
He praised the school’s leadership and said he loved being a part of Rotary which he described as being very active and committed. He is also chaplain to Wyre District Scouts and Kings Own ex-Servicemen Association.
“The fishermen’s mission continues to give support to families in Fleetwood, to retired fishermen and to those who now fish elsewhere,” he said.
“It also supports the Merchant Navy, and when members come home they know the mission is there for them.”
A big supporter of plans for Fleetwood fish park, George firmly believes that fishing isn’t finished in Fleetwood. He was recently in Peterhead to witness the massive catch landings from the pelagic boats there. Half a million pounds worth of fish was auctioned that day, and George was delighted to see that much of it was destined for Fleetwood for processing.
“When it’s been processed, the fish is labelled as Fleetwood fish, which will continue Fleetwood’s long association with fishing.
“The fish park would be a huge boost to the local economy and would help retain Fleetwood as a major and prominent port.
“It’s far from a dying place, as far as I can see Fleetwood is a vibrant place with young families.
“Negative remarks about Fleetwood are usually from people who don’t live here or from those who listen to hearsay and believe the grass is greener.
“It’s not greener. If people choose not to find out more about Fleetwood then they will never know what it has to offer. The more I stay the more I love it.”