Friends of RTBP Winter Newsletter
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Dear Friends of the River Thames Boat Project,
All Change for the Friends
It's a bit grey and soggy out there and I'm sure everyone is looking forward to longer and warmer days as spring approaches. But as Peter says below, the Venturer (and her crew) barely had a rest before she was out again with the first School on the River day of 2016 already behind us! And as you can see in the information below from Miranda and Louise, we are looking forward to a very busy year with the new boat, planning for new delivery offerings and everything else that is needed to go with her, all while continuing to deliver our existing services on the Venturer. Note in the profile of Peter Finch the research he is doing about possible volunteer skippering.
Alongside that we have various activities planned which should be of interest to the Friends, with the intention of engaging you and raising some funds for the Charity at the same time. An initial taste of these is in the Calendar, but one to focus on now is the proposed Friends' weekend cruise - please contact Louise asap if you think you may be interested in going, so planning can get underway.
I also wanted to remind you that the Venturer is available for hire by Friends for that special event - evenings and weekends. Just imagine celebrating that anniversary or important birthday with a sunset cruise!
We have sadly said goodbye to Paul Boyd as our Friends Trustee when he retired as a Director at the last AGM.
Paul was responsible over the last three years for relaunching the Friends as a volunteer-led organisation providing financial support to the Charity through subscription membership. Among his innovations was to introduce a Corporate Friend and a Lifetime Friend category. He also recruited a strong team to support him in organising events and stepped up communication - with the very able help of this newsletter's editor. It is also down to Paul that several former volunteers (to say nothing of our one-time office stalwart, Judy Cope) were 'recruited' to lend a hand - Paul's watchword could easily be said to be ‘re-invention’. We are extremely grateful to Paul for all the energy, enthusiasm and devotion to detail in his responsibilities over the last three years.
Despite having moved to north to Derbyshire, Paul is going to continue to play a role and his expertise and support is not entirely lost to us. He has agreed to act as a volunteer consultant to the Board for IT for the next year, while we upgrade all the Charity's systems.
In terms of his Friends role, we are now actively recruiting his replacement on the Trustee Board. Please contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) as soon as possible if you might be interested in this opportunity, and I will send you an information pack. We also welcome any volunteers to help the Friends in other ways – fundraising ideas, help with events, recruitment of new Friends!
Louise Sibley, Chair
From the Wheelhouse
Peter has a maritime background going back to his school days when he joined the Merchant Navy as an apprentice at the tender age of 16. Although he loved it, after eight years his eyesight let him down (no contact lenses in those days and apparently glasses wouldn’t do for deck crew) so he took his knowledge of ropes and became a Rigger. But this kind of rigger meant climbing around inside the roof of Olympia and other exhibition halls setting up events and exhibitions, and subsequently flagpoles! His career then moved away from ropes and the water, but his connection with the Thames and boating remained (he still has an Orkney Pilothouse moored at Fulham).
Being so busy means one season rolls into another without much of a pause for breath so Christmas was a welcome break for everyone. We returned to a river on red boards and a reminder that winter has only just begun!
Our first school group was with us before the end of January so a number of maintenance and painting tasks are being held back until the Easter school holidays and hopefully some finer weather. We have taken the opportunity to have the injector pump and injectors serviced, the carpet cleaned, and have now moved on to re-plumb the black water tanks so both tanks can be emptied using our on-board pump.
We’ve also seen some changes in the office with our computers being upgraded to Microsoft Office 365 software.
A hardy team of volunteers helped to prepare the Teddington lock island foreshore for another busy year of school visits by clearing overgrown vegetation and repairing the access steps to the beach. We look forward to welcoming some new volunteers and new clients for another fabulous year on the river!
Pete Gallon, our ever enthusiastic volunteer and well known rope splicer, has received the Captain’s Medal from the Sea Cadets for 50 years of voluntary service – a remarkable achievement. This was mentioned in his profile article last issue but I wanted to add our congratulations to Pete for this, with thanks for his continued service with the Charity.
Peter Oldham, Skipper
The New Boat!
We know you are all curious about how the new boat is progressing, so here is the first in a series of regular updates. If you want to play with an interactive drawing of the boat click here.
I spoke to Miranda, Project Manager (New Boat), who along with the rest of the Boat Team (Trustees Peter Low and David Bell plus Peter Oldham and Miranda) has been very busy finalising the design and technical specification so it can go out to tender. And it just has, to six boatyards. Responses are due by 22 February and then there is a decision to be made. This is essential in light of Veolia’s grant, which requires a financing arrangement to be in place with the builder in early March. In the meantime, the team will be working on the plans for the interior fit out – carpets and wall coverings, furniture, fixtures and fittings.
I also asked Miranda about the feedback on the boat design received at the AGM. She said she wanted to say a special thank you to everyone who came up with a long list of excellent ideas, all of which have been considered carefully by the Boat Team and many of which are being incorporated. Yes the galley area was too small (a lot of you mentioned that; it has been dealt with and it will be wheelchair accessible), there will be solar panels, and a canopy. There will also be braille signage, a music centre/ PA system, audio information, a folding bike, and more. My favourite idea is from both Miranda and Sally Woodward for a map of the river designed into the carpet/wall covering – under investigation!
In future updates there will be opportunities to sponsor items for the fit out – so if you want to contribute, watch this space.
Funding and the Future
It's just over a year since we announced our intention to introduce a second boat - and, as you will read elsewhere, work on this has moved on apace.
A critical element has of course been funding. Just before Christmas we heard that our bid to the Veolia Environmental Trust for a capital grant had been successful, giving us a real boost towards achieving our total funding target for the new boat and its fit-out. The capital grant, together with some generous individual donations, releases a matched funding offer that must remain anonymous for now, meaning that we are able to push ahead quickly. In fact, we must push ahead quickly, in order to meet our commitments and secure the finance we have been promised. More details will be available later in the year. We feel very grateful that only a year on the funding package for a second boat is in place - and how we pay proper tribute to our generous supporters is something else we want to think about and do well.
So 2016 is a year for getting on with executing our plans and this means more than just boat building. There is a great deal of work to prepare the Charity for a doubling in its cruising capacity. We are looking at crewing and skippering requirements, at how we reach out to attract more clients and, just as important, at how we put in place the year-on-year operational funding for keeping everything going.
There is still a big hill to climb in that respect, with the funding climate so tough and more rules in view. We will be looking more and more to our own regular fundraising activities and targeted sponsorship in order to reduce our dependency on grant income.
That said, let's remember the word fundraising starts with fun. So two great goals - have fun and raise money (as the Rotary Club members say). Please give us your ideas!
Louise Sibley, Chair
A Client Story: The Pirate Castle
The Pirate Castle is a slightly unusual client as it is a charity which provides activities not dissimilar to ourselves! Based in Camden, north London, it offers canal boats trips, kayak and canoe training and youth clubs, as well as other outdoor activities and education. The major part of its operations are aimed at providing affordable or funded activities for the community, young people, and those with disabilities.
One of its two canal boats is designed and customised for the use of disability groups, with full disabled access and a wheelchair accessible steering position. Access Adventure is a project delivered in partnership with the London Borough of Camden and various voluntary sector organisations with the aim of enabling young people with mild to moderate disabilities to experience inclusive outdoor and adventurous activities and sports. The Access Watersports Programme provides funded canoeing and kayaking sessions for children with disabilities, with the Rosedale Scheme offering funded canal boat trips for disadvantaged young people, or those with with disabilities.
Like the River Thames Boat Project, The Pirate Castle is dependent on volunteers to help to deliver its programmes – on the canal boats both the skippers and crew are mixed, with some being employees but the majority volunteers.
So the organisers thought a spell on the Venturer might be an appropriate excursion for a group of them. They have done two weekend residential trips in the last few years - a combination of thank you, team building and training. The Venturer gave them experience of quite a different type of boat, on the Thames rather than on canals, and with the luxury of manned locks. Andrew Carpenter, their canal boat manager and trainer, said that they were all impressed with the Venturer – she is a grand vessel, well maintained, and with a very good physical layout for disabled clients. Oh yes, and he also said they had a lot of fun!
We got a result also – one of their group was impressed enough to volunteer for us, and Warren Stein is now a RTBP crew member.
Volunteer Profile - Peter Finch
Peter can’t remember how he connected with the River Thames Boat Project – spending time on and around the Thames he would have seen the Venturer, maybe talked to Miranda at an event to do with the River Thames Society? However it happened, he signed up as crew in 2002. At the same time he was heavily involved with the River Thames Society – and has been its Chairman since 2008. The RTS was formed in 1962 ‘to conserve the river for future generations’ … and ‘to encourage the use of the river for all purposes’ – so the RTS and the RTBP have closely aligned interests!
Over the years Peter has crewed, been a mate since 2006, helped out with maintenance including dry-dock and generally been part of many Charity activities. He has done all the usual trips, various residentials, School on the River and delivered the boat to the London Boat Show and a variety of other destinations. He also crewed on both the major downstream trips the Venturer made in 2015. In July, after the Friends’ weekend trip down to the Thames Barrier, Paul Boyd said ‘if Peter was a tour guide he could charge a fortune - he is an expert on every bridge, building and boat on the river’! And in October Peter used his extensive river knowledge to help Gemma get set up downriver for the pilot education programme week to the Hermitage moorings we told you about last time.
He is now heading up an independent assessment (with a couple of fellow volunteers) on the possibility of volunteers acting as skipper when the new boat comes into service – gathering information on requirements and potential issues. He says volunteering with the Charity is a wonderful opportunity to meet a variety of people, crew and clients, while sailing on the river. The days can be long but whatever frustrations arise (e.g. weather!) at the end of each day he has always enjoyed it – and feels like he has contributed something useful.
Thanks to receiving funding from the Royal Borough of Kingston-Upon-Thames and Global Make Some Noise, this month marks the start of the Charity’s first ‘citizen science’ project. Citizen science is when members of the public (‘citizen scientists’) collect data, usually in partnership with professional scientific bodies, contributing to a wider understanding of the natural environment. It has become increasingly popular, and is a fantastic way to gather research data and engage the public in their local environment at the same time. The data is collated into an online database which is accessible to anyone, and can be of great use to researchers, academics, charities, policy-makers and government.
There are great opportunities for river data collection within our cruises and education programmes. The late Martin Emerson, the Charity’s founder, wanted to create a river database on the boat which could contribute to a wider understanding of the health of the Thames. In more recent years, School on the River (SoR) volunteers have often mused about how interesting it would be to seasonally and annually compare changes in water temperature and pH levels collected within the Water Survey session at Teddington.
We have partnered with two organisations: EarthWatch and Thames21. EarthWatch’s ‘Freshwater Watch’ is an international programme, hosting a database of global river data, contributing to a worldwide understanding of river health. We are focussing on confluence (where two rivers merge), so will be testing phosphate and nitrate levels on the Thames at Kingston (Hogsmill River) and potentially Molesey (River Mole and Ember). Data will be gathered, and uploaded to the online database via our Hudl tablet, by client groups and volunteers within the Eco Venturers education programme and on selected cruises.
Thames21’s ‘RiverWatch’ is a Thames-wide programme focussing on the health of the tidal stretch of the river. We will be testing at Teddington; logging the water temperature and pH levels of the river during SoR’s Water Survey session, and the litter data collected during River Clean Ups with youth groups. The Charity has been delivering education programmes at Teddington Lock for well over a decade, and many of our staff and volunteers are ‘experts’ on the river environment at this location. As such, we are hoping to become a hub for citizen science at Teddington.
The first citizen science experience with a school group at Kingston took place on Friday 22 January, a soggy grey day, but as you can see from the pictures it didn't dampen the enthusiasm!
So, now is your chance to become a citizen scientist! EarthWatch delivered training at Kingston last December for 17 of our staff and volunteers, and Thames21 is due to deliver training at Teddington on 2 March. These are pilot projects and if successful we will provide training for more of our volunteers later this year. We need cruising crew to be trained as well as education volunteers, as we plan to integrate citizen science testing with selected cruises too. Gemma, our Environmental Education Co-ordinator, will be in touch later on in the year with an update. Any questions to Gemma@thamesboatproject.org.
Know Your Trustees - Peter Low
Peter comes from an army background but was told that early on he sang “I’m going to be a sailor” in much the same way small boys used to want to drive trains.
He started out as an apprentice on Shell tankers, joined the Royal Naval Reserve, worked for the New Zealand Shipping Company serving on various ships, and later coming ashore for Overseas Containers Ltd in London, Johannesburg, Jeddah and Dubai. During his time with the Navy he served on a helicopter support ship where he learned to wave large ping pong bats to bring helicopters in to land on deck (is this a skill we can use on the Venturer?). However his great desire was to be a submariner so he volunteered and was transferred to that service where he qualified after serving on two ‘T’ class submarines. He has a Master Foreign-Going Certificate - for those who don’t know this is the top professional qualification in the British Merchant Navy.
So just a bit of experience in and around a fairly wide range of ships! Peter has also been known to sail on slightly smaller vessels - on various yachts owned by family members. But it is the ‘big journeys’ he particularly enjoys with the planning and navigation required. After retirement a friend asked him to take a 105 year old gaff rigged cutter from the Medway to the Norwegian Lofoten Islands and he told me he is hoping to help bring a yacht down from Inverness to the south later this year.
Peter had known Peter Harrop for some years and when he returned to the family home in East Sheen in 2005 Peter H suggested that as a former seafarer he might be interested in volunteering as a crew member for the River Thames Boat Project. He told me that the concept of just ‘messing around in boats’ now that he had retired had great appeal! Shortly afterwards he also joined the Board of Trustees.
He is now Lead Trustee for the Boat Team and is delighted to be involved with the planning of a second boat. He looks forward to the expansion of the Charity’s activities to new waters including the upper reaches of the Thames. When not messing around in boats he plays a bit of golf but also travels to see family in Cape Town, Dubai and Shanghai – his international life has obviously rubbed off on all of his children!