The day started with much anticipation and a sense of excitement that we could take our knowledge of oral health out to local fishermen, their families and the general public. Brighter Smiles lead oral health nurse Jo picked me up at 8.00 am with the car jammed full of the goodie bags I had been busy making, all the equipment, snacks for the fishermen and gazebo for the day – both of us masked, we headed to Newquay harbour.

After a short conversation with the Harbourmaster we agreed our spot for the day and proceeded to have fun putting up the brand new purple Smile Together gazebo! Luckily Carol from the national SeaFit Programme in Portsmouth (my childhood home) and Hazel from Healthy Cornwall were on hand to assist. We were all hopeful that the mist would lift and the sun would break through. Either way I felt privileged to look over the harbour wall and see the magnificent views across the beach – I definitely couldn’t complain about this being my office for the day!

By 10.00 am the weather was still a bit nippy but the stall was all set up with the leaflets, bunting, ‘social distancing’ signage and giant Smiles at Sea banner. Our colleague Joy came down to give her support and approval, and Jo and I posed for photos of our stall.

During the day Jo and I had 62 socially distanced interactions with local fishermen, members of the public (which included families and couples on holiday) and locals walking their dogs. Our ‘think before you drink’ signs proved a popular topic of discussion. Interestingly one gentleman, who was addicted to fizzy coke, had a mouth of dentures but Jo still seized the opportunity to talk about denture care and the importance of diet.

The weather remained inclement and high tide was in the afternoon. More fishermen started to unload their catch around 2.30 pm and we were able to see more of them and engage in lengthy oral health discussions.

The fishermen we saw had a variety of issues and were appreciative of our efforts despite the restrictions due to the Covid pandemic. Most of them wouldn’t get to access dental treatment or oral health if it wasn’t for Smile Together and those of us who volunteer for Smiles at Sea. All of them said they would come back next year and the health education packs I made were well received, though some weren’t so sure about the healthy oat cakes inside them!

I saw the emergency helicopter land on an adjoining beach and was fascinated to see the fishermen unloading their catch – some of the crabs were huge! I saw a dogfish in the harbour and learnt from the fishermen that they are usually classed as waste and released over the side of the boat, as dogfish are not allowed to be landed due to fishing quotas.

I was also very excited to see a seal swimming in the harbour! I have only seen them at the Cornish Seal Sanctuary in Gweek. However, the fishermen assured us that this was a regular occurrence and the seals preferred to follow the tourist boats rather that their fishing boats.

We packed the stall away around 4.00 pm and managed to overcome the challenge of putting the gazebo back into its bag. Jo, Hazel and Carol are lovely ladies and very easy to work with – they helped make the day an enjoyable experience.

Smiles at Sea has given me a valuable insight into fishermen, their lives and the work they do. I left the harbour feeling my work was meaningful and gave me a sense of purpose. I’d like to think it was a job well done or a proper job (in a Cornish accent)! I’m still on a high today from the experience – I really felt I had made a difference to some of the people in Newquay and the local fishermen.

On a personal note, it was the day before the anniversary of my Dad’s passing. It seemed a fitting way to spend the day and pay tribute to my Dad who was passionate about the sea and anything to do with boats. My great grandfather was a fisherman in Portsmouth and I think he too would have approved of the work we’re doing through Smiles at Sea.

(Alison Dunn, Brighter Smiles Administrator and volunteer with Smiles at Sea at Newquay Harbour, 16th Sept 2020)