Friends of RTBP Winter Newsletter
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Dear Friends of the River Thames Boat Project,
It's a beautiful day out there - sunshine, blue sky, and just above freezing! Two of the three ingredients for a perfect day out on the river - hopefully we will have all three in the spring - but cold (and wet) weather haven't slowed things down much. You will read about the massive dry dock effort (now there is a labour of love), and School on the River continues to expand their activities (and are asking for your help below).
As promised we have another Trustee profile for you, but also a profile of someone you may not know about - our Relief Skipper Geoff, who came on board in September (Peter must be beathing a sign of relief...).
And don't forget about our 2015 Curry Night - it was great fun last year and I hope to see more of you this time!
From the Wheelhouse
We have come to the end of the busiest season on record for the Venturer but we won’t be resting on our laurels. There are always new client groups to introduce to the Thames and improvements we can make to the running of the boat.
Next year marks 25 years since the original conversion of Gerja into what we have today. Just as the internet has come a long way since its birth in 1990 so has the Venturer. A marker of time are our lifejackets – when purchased all those years ago, they were to current standards. Since then there have been not one but two updates to the standards, meaning they are rather dated and due for replacement.
Not only was the Venturer very different, so was the river and its people. There have been physical changes like the new weir at Molesey, the waiting pontoon at Teddington, and the new moorings at Weybridge. Lock-keepers' uniforms aren’t as starched and formal and they are now assisted by volunteers rather than summer assistants. River conditions don’t seem to follow the seasonal pattern they once did and it’s now not uncommon to see red boards indicating high flow during the summer. Many of the traditional mooring places are occupied by liveaboards, and our own mooring has been re-developed.
All this means is there’s always something new and different to see and experience on the river. 2015 will be no different and we are looking forward to being the stage to see it from!
Peter Oldham, Skipper
School on the River
On the education front we have had a very successful year, with 50 bookings projected for the year to March 2015 (14 still to deliver), exceeding our original estimate by 62%! And as all the extra bookings are in the ‘off peak’ season, we are achieving our aim of maximising the use of Thames Venturer during the months when there are no cruise bookings.
As we now have a healthy number of school bookings, we are focusing on increasing youth group and adult/teacher training bookings, some of which take place in evenings, at weekends and during school holidays.
This will be our third year of delivering Learning Outside the Classroom Training to trainee teachers from St Mary’s University College, Twickenham. In 2014 we updated our training programme in line with current good practice to include risk benefit analysis, helping students to ensure that activities yield the maximum benefit with the minimum risk. Find out more from our new teacher training e-newsletter here.
This year we have also run a very successful weekend residential for a group of freelance teachers and environmental educators, and delivered workshops to primary school teachers as part of a local Sustainable Schools Conference.
Our youth group programme is expanding; in the year to March we are projected to deliver activities to over 100 young people and we plan to reach out to more in 2015. The activities we have delivered range from foreshore food chain games with a Woodcraft Folk group to a litter-pick and recyclables sorting evening with a local Guide troop, during which 75.75kg of rubbish was collected from Teddington riverside of which 31.75kg was recyclable, (collected for us by Veolia, who also provided bags and equipment). In October we also hosted a weekend residential for 12-18 year olds from a Kingston youth group and in March will be welcoming a Scout pack for a river clean-up and waste reduction activity day, helping them to learn how local action can help global environmental problems. Find out more from our new youth group e-newsletter here.
You can help!
Please forward our e-newsletters to groups or organisations you think might be interested and pass on any contacts to Gemma, our Environmental Education Coordinator, at email@example.com. And please distribute our leaflets to community and youth group centres and colleges. We can post leaflets for you to hand out, or you may collect them from the boat or the office.
We need more eager crew assistants and workshop leaders, so get in touch with Gemma if you enjoy working with people and sharing your knowledge of the river (training given if required).
Here’s to a successful 2015!
Gemma Hindi: Environmental Education Coordinator
Jane Newman: Lead Trustee for Education
Strategy/ New Boat Update
At our AGM in November, we announced the decision to start the search for a second boat. This is the result of a year of research and thinking about our boating facilities and what we want them to deliver.
What we have come out with is a plan in two parts.
First, acquire and fit out a boat that we can dedicate to day cruising, which forms the bulk of our work. The ‘new boat’ will, like Thames Venturer, have client safety, mobility and comfort and environmental sustainability at its heart. It should be easier to steer and crew, be capable of taking modern wheelchairs, which have a wider base, and, hopefully, be less expensive to operate and maintain.
When we have found the boat we want, we estimate it will take a season to refit and get it on the water - and we anticipate spending between £100,000 and £150,000 on the hull and fit-out. With the help of our supporters and volunteers, if all goes well, we could have a second boat in operation as early as 2016.
The second part of our plan, with our day cruising safely catered for, is to see if we can extend the life of the Venturer and use her for the education and residential work for which her size is best suited. Our aim would be to refit her, add new learning facilities and improve her sleeping accommodation and carbon footprint. We are in the process of assessing how cost-effective this refit might be. If not, we have the option to sell Venturer to help fund a replacement boat.
This plan - a dedicated day boat combined with a larger, residential boat - should solve some of the challenges we always face of running such a wide range of community programmes cost-effectively. And it will give us the capacity to develop some of the innovative community programmes we are planning - for example our new EcoVenturer youth activities due to launch this year.
2014 was a vintage season - our cruises and education activities overall grew by 17%. It is this unabated demand for what we do which gives us confidence in our ambitions. We now have an (occasional) relief skipper, Geoff Mellor (see the story about him below), to take some of the burden from Peter Oldham and give us more flexibility with evening and weekend work. Finally, in development are a bunch of innovative community programmes - including a research project involving people with dementia - which we hope will extend our range even further. 2015 will be an exciting year!
Louise Sibley, Chair of Trustees
Kew House in Wimbledon is one of 17 care homes in England and Wales run by Hallmark Care Homes. It provides residential, nursing and dementia care for up to 81 residents. They are one of our newest clients, running two trips on the Venturer in September (plus one of their residents who was unable to come on either of the group trips hired the boat privately!). And there is a special connection as an elderly relative of Miranda is one of the residents. I spoke to Carolyn Rennie, the Lifestyle Team Leader, about the experience the Kew House residents had on the boat.
A Client Story: Kew House
Carolyn told me how beneficial the trips were to the residents living with dementia. She said that the outdoor activity, in particular being on the water, was a calm, soothing experience. Different sights and sounds and a different dining environment at lunchtime all added to the experience. She described the reaction of one person who is in the later stages of her dementia. This lady was able to express her experience through conversation in a way which had not been seen by the team for a long time, about the views and the boat, had two helpings of lunch, and once back home continued to talk about the day. Most surprising was how she retained the memory – two weeks later when they were out for a drive and went to see the boat, she remembered the trip a fortnight earlier and again talked in detail about the occasion!
One of the things Kew House is talking to the Charity about is the possibility of evening cruises. This has the potential to give their residents a meaningful activity to do in the evening, not something that is easy to provide. And there is the hope that an evening event may help with things like sleep patterns and improved memory retention in the following days.
Caroline believes that there is an emotional connection with being on the water that these trips provide, reconnecting the residents to the world in a way that few experiences can. She is looking forward to more cruises in 2015!
The Dry Dock Experience
Venturer spent a fortnight in dry dock in November receiving her biennial health check and spruce up at the Environment Agency dry dock at Sunbury. We arrived on Friday 14 November to be greeted by the news that the dock would not be drained until Tuesday, putting an already tight work schedule under pressure.
Once the dock was drained, and the hull pressure-washed, a merry band of volunteers donned their overalls and set to work. A priority job was the replacement of the rudder skeg bearing - Chief Engineer David Bell kindly gave up other work to mastermind this repair which involved completely dismantling the steering system. The surveyor found a few areas that needed the attention of a welder, but no over plating, which suggests that if we keep looking after her there are plenty more years left in the Venturer.
Although cold, we were lucky with the weather. The dirty work of preparing the hull surfaces was followed by lots and lots of painting. A team from Lloyds TSB came to join in the fun and rose to the occasion with amazing enthusiasm even when it involved the less glamorous task of painting the bottom of the boat! A huge thank you to them and volunteer David Bentley who kept them keen.
The final few days of dry dock are always like a rush to the finish line but I'm pleased to say we made it and Venturer returned to her home mooring on Monday 1 December under grey skies and a bitter breeze. The final count was 71 man days (at 7 hours per day that is 500 hours!), to apply 40 litres of bitumen and 15 litres of gloss paint, and drink 215 litres of tea and coffee.
I would like to thank all the volunteers who came to the dock and braved the cold, the dirt, and the skipper to get all the work done - great job!!!
We shall now spend the winter completing maintenance and improvements that can be done afloat, all the while waiting for spring or a period of warm settled weather when we can paint the decks and superstructure. Fear not if you are disappointed to have missed the opportunity of helping this time, there will be plenty more painting and maintenance to be done in the spring - please get in touch if you'd like to help!
Peter Oldham, Skipper
Relief Skipper Geoff
With the ever increasing volume of bookings and new uses being found for the Venturer you may have been wondering how Peter is managing to keep up with his skippering responsibilities as well as looking after the boat (and providing me with regular articles for this newsletter…). But he now has help in the form of Geoff Mellor, our relief skipper as from September!
Geoff knows Miranda from the Dutch Barge Association. Over time (and a few glasses of wine) he had heard much about the Charity from Miranda and was increasingly interested in becoming involved. He has a long history of involvement with barges, starting with his purchase of a Thames Sailing Barge in 1969 shortly after he came out of the Navy. He had her for 30 years – lived on her, raced her and sailed her to France.
But his relevant experience doesn’t stop there. Geoff has skippered the Scottish Highlander, a 130’ Dutch barge (larger than the Venturer!) operating as a cruising hotel in Scotland, the Volharding, an 80’ 120 year old Dutch sailing barge (older than the Venturer!) based in central London that takes out groups of disadvantaged young people and young carers, and has worked with the Jubilee Sailing Trust. He is a qualified Sailing Bargemaster and also an Offshore Yachtmaster with some 45 years spent navigating the river Thames in 100 ton sailing barges. His Boatmaster’s licence allows him to skipper passenger boats (including those with more than 12 passengers) throughout the entire Thames estuary, a qualification that could prove to be very useful to the Charity.
Geoff is very enthusiastic about the work everyone at the Boat Project is doing. He said that there are a number of charities out there doing similar things but the sheer quantity of what the River Thames Boat Project is achieving is very impressive. He commented that he has seen many times the beneficial effect that being on a boat, on the water, has on people dealing with a variety of issues. The mental stimulation combined with the calming environment seems to ameliorate all sorts of troubles, and he says he is delighted to be involved.
So those of you who are on the boat next season watch out for Geoff – he is the guy in the wheelhouse who isn’t Peter…
Know Your Trustees!
Alison Oliver returned home after some time off work, travelling and volunteering, wanting to carry on with some volunteering. So she went to a Volunteer Fair in Twickenham in the spring of 2005 and there she found the River Thames Boat Project. Having a love of the water and a sailing history as a child, she was also attracted by the diversity of the groups the Charity works with. She arranged to work four days a week so she could spend one day a week volunteering and started with the Charity that September in the office, but she also started crewing during the 2006 season.
Since then Alison has done many different things with the Charity – in addition to long hours in the office and the joys of crewing, she claims to be pretty handy with a paint brush and has great memories of scrubbing out the engine room and painting the hull in freezing temperatures whilst wearing an orange jump suit!
Then in 2011 she volunteered to help Paul Boyd reinvigorate the Friends organisation, taking on the ‘Friends CFO’ role. Two years later at the 2013 AGM she joined the Charity’s Board of Trustees, initially supporting Paul Barry in his role as Treasurer and now that Paul has stepped down as Treasurer is the Lead Trustee for Finance.
In April 2014, after 17 years in the commercial sector (investment banking and commercial property), Alison moved to the charitable sector as Finance Director of the Thomas Pocklington Trust, an organisation offering people who are blind or have sight loss the support they require to lead an independent life. Unfortunately this is a full time role but she told me that her boss is happy for her to disappear off to spend a few days each season crewing (as long as the work back at the office gets done…).
Alison told me that she is excited to be able to help the Boat Project make the most of its enormous potential, with its excellent volunteer force and the many opportunities on and around the river. The plans for a new boat open up all sorts of possibilities and it will be exciting to see where it goes.She says she loves the perspective and balance the Project gives her in meeting and working with all sorts of other people.