NO. 7 Jermyn Street in Liverpool has more than historical tales and stories of adventures of sailors from the shores of Malaya. Once the home away from home for sailors from the Malay world, the three-storey building — situated in the Merseyside city of Liverpool — went into a sad state of derelict and disrepair.
There had been several attempts to repair and renovate it, but the centre, where Malaysian students and those living locally had gathered, and the hub of activities for Malay sailors and their friends from neighbouring shores, remained neglected for quite a few years now. Efforts to turn the building — acquired in the early sixties — into a community house for Malaysians living there and those visiting remain a dream.
Recently, Pak Cik Md Nor, now in his 80s, one of the few remaining Malay sailors and another member, Jantan Lisut, decided that they should do something to bring No. 7 Jermyn Street back to its glory days, and serve a purpose for Malaysians here and visiting.
Jantan, in his spare time, with the help of Malaysian students there, had been putting in whatever work they could to make the house habitable again.
“But I am not a qualified electrician; we need to do the wiring, put in the boiler, radiator, etc. A lot of work has to be done on the house before it can be used again,” said Jantan, who not only spends his free time there, but also his own money for the sake of rebuilding the clubhouse, which was also featured in the recent movie Pulang about a son’s search for his sailor father.
Unlike other Malay sailors who worked with the British Merchant Navy ships, Jantan sailed with the Malaysian navy as well as haj vessels ferrying pilgrims from Malaysia to Jeddah.
He is now taking a break from doing the renovation work and is back in Malaysia — in his own words, in search of generous Malaysians who could fund the rebuilding of the clubhouse now known as Malaysia House which could potentially be a meeting place, activity centre and cheap accommodation for visiting Malaysians.
Since Pulang hit the screen, it has drawn a lot of renewed interest in the lives of the old Malay sailors who used to sail the world since the early thirties. Young able-bodied men, such as Othman, the main character in the movie, who hailed from Melaka, would make a beeline for the Singapore docks where British Merchant ships recruited deckhands for their voyage around the world.
It was Othman’s son, Omar who went searching for his father in Liverpool in the sixties and was helped by Pak Cik Md Nor, once chairman of the clubhouse.
A lot of people pledged help when a documentary on the making of the movie was aired. But that was it and nothing more. And it is such a pity to allow such a potentially wonderful project to go neglected because of a lack of funds.
Jantan and Pak Cik Md Nor had planned to provide a surau and enough rooms for families visiting their children studying here.
There are halal butchers and a mosque nearby and also public transport just up the street. Fans of Liverpool Football Club who are visiting need not look any further for accommodation, once the renovation is done.
Students transiting while looking for accommodation would also find this place useful — that is once it can be completed.
Malaysian students have always been a huge part of the association. It was a place they went for Hari Raya celebrations, when they missed the company of the elders for some chat and advice, and even enjoyed listening to stories from the high seas told by the Pak Cik sailors. It is not unlike a Malaysia Hall.
When I visited the place in the early 90s I met a lot of students who went to help out with bits and bobs around the place while Pak Cik Kahar cooked and Pak Cik Md Nor and others regaled them with stories from the high seas. The late Pak Cik Arshad, although by then was already suffering badly from Parkinson’s disease, would frequent the place to be with the young students he took under his wings as he would his own grandchildren.
Many young officers from the Royal Malaysian Navy who went to study in Liverpool also used to gather at the clubhouse. I am sure they have wonderful memories there too.
When I met up with Pak Cik Md Nor last year for the making of the documentary for Pulang, he appealed to former students and others who had enjoyed the hospitality of the place to help.
“I would like to appeal to these former students, to people who had come and been with us those days, those people who found solace and made it their meeting place, help us in whatever way you can,” he had said.
He said a grant of £25,000 (RM132,000) had been given by the council to restore the front as well as the back portion of the house. However, that is not enough. More needs to be done to make the place fit for people to live in.
Pak Cik Md Nor remembered the days when young sailors used to meet up in cafes and bars as there was no meeting place.
“We needed a place for the community and for sailors who came back after a stint at sea. At first, we rented a shophouse from an Arab. But it was not suitable.
Then several old seamen pooled to get he r s om e money and bought this place for £1,700. Haji Bahazim who lived next door helped to look after it,” Pak Cik Md Nor said. It was he who then registered it as a community centre which then allowed them to receive grants from the council.
Sadly, the place soon went into a state of disrepair. At one time, it was at risk of being repossessed.
An effort to collect money through crowd funding is a possibility and this is in the pipeline.
An estimated £30,000 would suffice to complete the repair that is already underway. Soon, hopefully with the generosity of wellwishers, No.7 Jermyn Street will be abuzz with activities again.