Friends of RTBP Summer 2016 Newsletter

Friends of RTBP Summer Newsletter 

July 2016

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Dear Friends of the River Thames Boat Project,

Welcome to another edition of our newsletter.  The summer cruising season is well under way and we have even had some summer!  For a few days at least. 
Our Chair Louise has just completed a wonderful weekend's residential cruise with the youth group Oxygen (we will tell you more about them next time). There is lots going on - the new boat is progressing, we welcome our new Marketing and Fundraising Executive Sonja Freebody and our new Friends' Trustee Stephen Mowat, and the Education Programme continues to develop new and interesting activities.

I'm pleased to tell you that Peter completed his extraordinary fundraising cycling challenge for the Charity on 10 July - 140km with 4,000 meters of ascent in the 'Etape de Tour'!  Read a bit more about it below but more importantly please go to his fundraising page and support him if you haven't already done so.  And thanks to those who already have!

Martha Tressler


From the Wheelhouse

Thankfully our season isn’t as short lived as the heat wave we had last week! Although with temperatures in the wheelhouse hitting 35 degrees, we were glad when it cooled down. But the better weather has brought a few extra boats out like the historic MTB 102, which we passed as it returned to its home mooring having been at the classic boat regatta at Henley.

We have had some poor weather days this season, however Gemma had the good fortune to stock the boat with some wonderful small jigsaws of river archeological finds which clients have been completing while waiting for the sun to return. We hope to expand the educational content of our cruises over the coming months.

There were some surprised looks last month from lock keepers upstream of Shepperton who don’t normally see us. Thanks to a repeat booking from the youth club Oxygen, we were able to go all the way to Windsor for a long weekend. I think it’s safe to say we had a great time helping to deliver a youth leadership weekend and hope to expand the number of these that we run. Cooks and crew please step forward – volunteers for residentials are needed !! The picture right  shows some of the young leaders taking time out to carry out citizen science water tests on river samples.

Peter Oldham, Skipper

The New Boat

The contract has been signed and our Naval Architect’s drawings have been turned into a cutting pattern. The steel is being cut and shaped into complex curves by Snijtech in the Netherlands. In early August our new boat will be delivered flat packed, Ikea style, to Toms Boatyard, Fowey, where in August, construction will start with laying the keel.

We are planning a special keel laying event in late August (yes, for those of you who have been paying attention, that is a bit later than expected!) for volunteers and Friends to celebrate this significant stage in the creation of our second boat. If you’d like to make your way down to Fowey, you would be most welcome. And for those who can’t make it to Cornwall, there will be a special gathering on board Thames Venturer in Kingston, at which we will show a video of the keel laying. We will let you know when we have a date.

Keel laying ceremonies are an age old tradition and are said to bring good luck to the ship during construction, and to the captain and crew during her life. They include the youngest apprentice placing a newly minted coin under the keel and the sponsor’s name being written on the keel. When the ship is finished, the owners are presented with the oak block on which the keel was laid.

The boat’s timetable is now:

  • April - June                      Detailed drawings and project plan finalised
  • July                                 Steel cut and formed in the Netherlands
  • Aug – October                 Keel laid and hull build
  • Nov – Dec                       Engine and machinery fitted
  • December                        Painting
  • January 2017                  Interior fitout
  • April                                 Launch and river trials; delivery to Kingston
  • May – June                      Equipping, work-ups and volunteer training.

More to follow including a few pictures once activity starts at Fowey!

A Successful Cycle!

Good news that skipper Peter successfully completed his fundraising challenge cycling the Etape du Tour (Stage 20 of the 2016 Tour de France) on 10 July and is still standing! He completed the ride in 5 hours 35 minutes, which was in the top half of the finishers.  The conditions were punishing – 30° heat – possibly my fault as I wished him a sunny day.  I checked his Strava training page and he put in an impressive amount of work training for the event – 2,500 km and 100 hours since the beginning of the year. 

Peter told me: ‘No running uphill without a bike like Chris Froome for me! Glad to have got to the finish.  And I’m now offering to fund the entry fee for anybody else who would like a similar challenge (cycling, running, swimming, walking or something else) and to fund raise for the Charity!’

Peter’s fundraising page is well on the way to his £5,000 target but there is still (just) time for you to help get him there - it closes to donations fairly soon!

A Client Story: Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability

The Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability (RHN) has been helping people for more than 160 years - the oldest independent hospital and medical charity in the UK. It is a centre of excellence in the assessment, care and rehabilitation of people with complex disabilities as a result of brain injury or neurological condition. With 260 beds it provides both rehabilitation services for patients who come for a period of weeks or months, and long-term residential care for those unable to live independently.

As well as the medical care and nursing rehabilitation the hospital provides, there are services to help improve the quality of life of the patients. These range from practical services which help a person communicate better using technology, or a bespoke wheelchair built to meet specific needs, to those focused more on recreation and enjoyment, including a range of activities run by the Leisure and Families Services Department such as trips on the Venturer! Their website says: ‘Balancing medical treatment with recreational activities and personal pursuits is a fundamental aspect of our holistic approach to care, not only because it can aid relaxation, but because it can improve a person’s overall confidence and sense of identity, helping them to lead a healthy and active life.’

RHN has been bringing groups out on the Venturer since 2003 – two or three trips each year. I spoke to Suzie Thomas who has been organising these trips for about 10 years.  She told me how important it is to give the long term patients time away from the hospital, out in the ‘real world’.  They relax when they are away from the hospital and, safe on the deck of the Venturer, can be part of the outside community – just watching houses and houseboats and people and everything along the river, while being on the water in the fresh air.

Those that can vocalise say how much they enjoy it and for those that can’t, the benefit is obvious from the way the tension leaves them by the end of the day.  Comments left in our comments book include ‘I really had fun in my first experience on a boat with friendly people and nice views.  Also a lovely experience ‘driving’ a boat!’ and ‘Today is one of the special days to talk about in future.’

There was one interesting point related to our new boat. Suzie mentioned that the number of RHN trips has decreased slightly in the last few years because the modern wheelchairs used by their patients are much larger – to provide greater comfort and functionality – but difficult to fit in the Venturer’s lift so restricting who they can bring.  Of course our new boat will help with that issue!

Marketing and Fundraising Executive - Sonja Freebody

Sonja joined our team on 7 June, working 3 days a week.  She lives in Guildford but was born in Kingston and went to Kingston College and Kingston Polytechnic, although had never heard of the River Thames Boat Project.  She found the RTBP recruitment advertisement online and with her love of the water (see below) it was an obvious fit!

Her role is to promote the Charity and its services - to increase the numbers of service users, supporters and funding streams, to develop awareness and to attract new clients, volunteers, patrons, corporate sponsorship and community support.  This will include a wide range of activities - marketing, PR, press, social media, communications, fundraising and community events.  She will also help with building the Friends’ community and assisting with Friends’ events.  

Her immediate target is to help achieve the Charity's objectives for 'Accessing The Thames' and 'Linking People Afloat' cruise numbers this year as we are currently running behind plan. A secondary target is to develop longer term plans for events, communications and marketing to new potential clients next year.

Sonja’s background for the last 20 or so years has been in the charity sector.  Her longest job role was with the Surrey Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre (13 years) as its Management Co-ordinator and Fundraiser.  In that time she increased their income six fold, from £48,000 to over £300,000 per annum, and developed the charity’s marketing, brand and reputation.  Other roles have been Head of Fundraising at The Whiteley Homes Trust and fundraising for a number of organisations.

Sonja told me how she loves the water and everything to do with it.  She is an RYA qualified Day Skipper, has sailed on a 3 week yacht delivery around the Greek islands and used to part-own an elderly, battle worn, ¾ tonner called ‘Countdown’ and raced at Cowes Week and Round the Island.  Now she “paddles” up and down the River Wey in a 17 foot sprint racing kayak!  She just enjoys being on the water, finding it therapeutic (so clearly understanding the benefit to our clients of being on the Venturer!).

Education Activities for Client Cruises

Thanks to grants from BAA Heathrow Communities for Tomorrow and Global's Make Some Noise, we have been able to look into adapting some of our Eco Venturer learning activities to suit some cruising client groups.  We are increasingly receiving cruising clients who would like to be offered a short learning activity whilst on board to boost their knowledge of the river.

So far, we have started by offering youth group clients water pollution testing activities, as part of our current citizen science Freshwater Watch programme. We have also started to adapt learning activities to suit special needs and disabled clients.

This summer a selection of client groups will take part in pilot testing activities within a cruise or residential, and their feedback will be collected and analysed in the autumn. The first pilot was on an LPA cruise on 20 July and was a huge success as you can see from the pictures!

This is an exciting new avenue for the Charity, made possible due to funding from our grantors, and couldn’t have come at a better time when we are preparing to offer our services to a wider range of client groups when we have two boats operational. If you, or anyone you know, are interested in being a part of our education team (as teacher, assistant or crew) please do contact me at

Gemma, Education & Learning Manager

Trustee Profile - Stephen Mowat

We introduced you to our new Friends’ Trustee in the last issue but Stephen now tells us a bit more about himself!

I spent the bulk of my career in IT and Technology companies, where I worked in the sales side of the business (BT, Cisco, Juniper and finally NCR as Sales Director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa). I retired last autumn and was looking around for charities of interest to me, and Richmond Council organized a Trustees' evening at which Louise spoke. I really liked her passion and commitment - and in addition I love everything to do with water. On it, in it or by it and I'm very happy, so the whole premise of the Charity and the therapeutic benefits of the river trips immediately struck a chord with me and I wanted to get involved.

My role here at RTBP is to run a dynamic and successful Friends organization. I have been very lucky, in that I have taken over from the excellent work of Paul Boyd and we have a very solid base from which to build. My initial aim is to double the number of individual Friends ​(please let me know if you know of anyone who might be interested in joining us?). I also want to bring on board more corporate Friends, and generally increase our income in support of the amazing work for the groups we take on the river.

I also work with some other charities. Beanstalk is a charity that provides reading support in schools and I have the real pleasure of reading twice a week to primary school children in my local school. On Wednesdays I work in the Arboretum team in Kew (fancy way of saying weeding and mulching!).  And I have just agreed to be the gardener for a retirement home in Kew.

I’m married with two grown children (and grandchildren) and live in Teddington just a few hundred metres from the Thames with my wife Claire and her daughter. For exercise I'm a member of the Lensbury Club and have become a recent (indoor) cycling convert that gives me a good workout. I'm also very fortunate to have a good friend who is a retired naval officer and we sail together throughout the year. The last time was in the Solent in November - he "persuaded" me to venture out in a Force 7! Never again in those conditions - thank goodness he knows what he's doing!







Main Contents

From the Wheelhouse
The New Boat

A Successful Cycle!
A Client Story: RHN
Sonja Freebody
Education Activities

Trustee Profile

Sidebar Contents

2016 Events

In the Office
Friends Weekend Cruises
Charter the Venturer
Give as You Live



Keel Laying Ceremony late Aug
Great River Race 3 Sept
Walton Heritage Day 10 Sept
Wine Tasting 27 or 29 Oct
Bangers & Mash evening 5 Nov
AGM 7 Nov
Christmas Lights & Carols Dec
Valentines Day Event 14 Feb
Friends' on board curry evening early 2017

2016 Events

The calendar above gives you a list of events and activities we expect to happen.  Many are repeats of our successful annual events, and some don't have exact dates yet. We will keep you informed as more information becomes available. 

In the Office

When you think of the River Thames Boat Project, the client booking system isn't something which immediately springs to mind. However our booking system is in daily use and helps us all immensely in our work.

We use an Access database which has been cleverly linked to various different Excel workbooks by Julian Galpin, our IT-savvy volunteer, who spends a large amount of his time developing, supporting and enhancing the system.

This allows bookings to be entered and transferred to the office Outlook calendar; cruises and education bookings to be crewed; and provides access to a reporting tool which can calculate all manner of information - the number of each type of trip, the number of volunteer hours per year, the number of visitors to the boat, and more! It lets us analyse and segment our data in all manner of ways.

And the current project – to adapt the system for a two-boat operation!

Pippa Butterfield

Friends' Weekend Cruise(s)

We are still planning at least one Friends’ cruise later this year. We need to know who is interested -  If you think you might like to join, for the full weekend or just part of it, please contact Louise as soon as possible.

Charter the Venturer

Subject to her ongoing charity commitments, the Venturer is available for weekday evening cruises, or static parties in the evening or at weekends.

If you have an anniversary you would like to celebrate, a business group you want to entertain or just simply want to throw a great summer party, you can hire Thames Venturer for £250 for a three hour cruise for up to 12 people, or £100 for a static event (up to 50 people).

Catering is available at an additional charge, if you don’t want to bring your own.

These rates are only available to RTBP Friends and Volunteers - and you must be on board with your party. Please contact Pippa in the office to discuss prices and options for hosting  your unforgettable summer party.

Give as you Live

Don't forget about Give as you Live, an online shopping link which gives donations to charities from commissions paid by the online retailers you buy from (at no cost to you).

There is a page on the Charity's website with more information.

Please help us by using this easy way to add to our funds at no cost to yourself!

Friends Membership Data

We wish to reassure everyone that the Friends membership list is only ​and will only ever be used by the Friends and by the Charity for matter​s relating to the Charity and the Friends.

Newsletter Feedback

If you have any suggestions regarding what you want to see more (or less) of please tell us.

If you have any specific ideas for articles please say so - fundraising activities, stories about the boat or the clients, whatever!  This is your newsletter - feel free to contribute to its content! Email

Friends Website

Remember that the Friends website is the place for the latest news and information on the Friends.  All past Newsletters and other information is available there.

We would love to get your feedback on the site, either via our email or hit the feedback button on the website.

The Friends Organising Team

Stephen Mowat
Keith Knox
Martha Tressler
Carolyn Smith
Duncan Faircloth

Contact us:

Phone: 020 8940 3509

Friends of the River Thames Boat Project
Supporting the work of the River Thames Boat Project - raising funds to provide access to the river

Registered Charity No.: 1080281
Registered Office:
66 Hill Street,

Photo Credits:

Thanks to John Frye, Peter Oldham and others...



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