Friends of RTBP Autumn Newsletter
For best results please view this in your browser (click link above)
Dear Friends of the River Thames Boat Project,
The days are shortening and the leaves are falling but the Venturer keeps cruising. At least the Education Programme seems not to have slowed down yet - there is a nice tale below about their recent expedition downriver. And we have our usual client, volunteer and trustee stories - without whom we wouldn't have a Charity to support! Nothing this time on the new boat (illustration above) but we gave you quite a detailed story in the special newsletter in August and there will be more on that next time.
I want to express my thanks once again to my proof readers, Judy Cope and Anthony Holley. Also to Pippa Butterfield who puts up with (and patiently responds to) my endless questions throughout the newsletter production about story ideas and dates and clients and pictures and and...
Hope to see you at the AGM on the 9th!
From the Wheelhouse
Homemead is a residence in Teddington which provides care for 26 people living with dementia. I spoke to Jane Elsley who organises the activities there, including 15 trips on the Venturer since 2009. She told me how important the boat trips are for residents. The first thing she mentioned is that it is local, just a short minibus ride away. Homemead used to organise trips to the seaside in the summer but found that the long journey meant the clients were tired by the time they arrived and sometimes agitated by the end of the day. In contrast days on the Venturer are relaxing and easy – a short journey and little effort once on board.
The clocks have gone back and winter is all but upon us but our hardy clients still want to use the Venturer for trips and learning. Currently our last cruise is on 30th October and our last education booking is on 20th November! Hopefully the weather will stay fair and those school groups will be able to see the river in its natural state as the annual draw off takes place for the month of November – the draw off is when the Richmond half tide barrier is not put in place so the river is at its lowest level during low tides. A great time to explore the river bank or ‘mudlark’.
Our Friends’ cruise to Tower Bridge early in the summer certainly started something because we’ve just returned from another trip there. The story about the Eco Venturers’ pilot week downriver is below, and it also meant two client groups were able to enjoy the excitement and views of a trip on the tideway. Long standing volunteer and photographer John Frye kindly took time out and braved the weather to capture some great pictures of Venturer passing Westminster and the Tower of London. And fortunately both our tideway trips fell on dates outside the recent ‘super tides’, the highest in 19 years, caused by a rare set of astronomical forces aligning!
The tideway trips also gave us the opportunity to raise fishcam out of the water to capture a swimmer's view of the cruise downstream. Sadly, the weather wasn’t kind, but it gives us a good reason for repeating the trip. You can view the edited video on the Thames Venturer YouTube channel. Watch this space for further videos!
The Teddington and Ham Hydro scheme received planning approval recently – a new bit of interest on the river. Could this be the start of something that changes the landscape of our rivers’ weirs?
Without a dry docking this year we’ll be focusing on sprucing up the interior of the Venturer over the winter and planning next year’s dry dock refit works – volunteers welcome!
Peter Oldham, Skipper
A Client Story: Central & Cecil Housing Trust
The Central & Cecil Housing Trust (‘C&C’) has been offering housing, care and support to vulnerable people for over 89 years. It runs care homes for older people who require personal care, nursing care and people living with dementia, sheltered housing providing secure independent living to older people, and supported housing for people with mental health support needs. Several of its care homes have been running trips on the Venturer since 2008 – 32 trips in total over that time.
Another key benefit is the high level of positive interaction they have – from people on the towpath waving to them (particularly in the locks!) to the crew laughing and joking with them. Jane said that Peter and the crew are excellent, interacting with their residents in a respectful, friendly manner seeing the person within, rather than a person living with dementia. Sitting together for lunch is a wonderful social event with an important communal feeling. Many residents are from the local area and sights such as Hampton Court are familiar. The day on the Venturer is a special day out – but it is also an activity that can bring memories of boat trips many residents enjoyed in their earlier years. A ‘day out’, but one with lasting positive effects. Even those with limited verbal communication come back refreshed, lively and displaying feelings of happiness. The feeling of contentment lingers even if the residents may not be able to remember the actual trip clearly.
Robert Kornas, Deputy Manager at Homemead, has accompanied residents on recent trips. He recounted one resident saying “I remember going along here with my Dad” and another recalled memories of “going on a rowing boat with my husband”. Many said “fabulous” or “great day”.
Cecil Court in Kew is another C&C residence which has come on the Venturer – 10 trips since 2009. It provides care for up to 45 residents needing personal care or living with dementia. Jackie Hemsley, who organises their trips, told me that it is one of the best outings their residents have. The residents are frail and many have mobility difficulties, so being able to sit on the boat and watch the view unfold is perfect. Many are local people and recognise places they visited in easier times, a good feeling even if the memories don’t last. External trips can be a nightmare of trying to find parking, disabled toilets and restaurants that can cope, but when coming on the Venturer the RAKAT (Richmond and Kingston Accessible Transport) bus provides door to door service and the facilities on the boat are excellent, with everything necessary right there. It is a safe, relaxing day for all. She mentioned the wonderful crew too!
One resident was accompanied on the last trip by her son and daughter and all said how they thoroughly enjoyed it and what a positive experience it was. Another, living with Parkinson's, wants to come on all the boat trips! She said it was a perfect day out for her.
We look forward to welcoming both Homemead and Cecil Court back on board next year.
Seal at Teddington
Many of you will have seen a picture of a seal in the Thames on ITV news a couple of months back. It was credited to one of the RNLI helms because he put it up on the RNLI Twitter account - an honest mistake. Because it was actually taken by Trustee Jon Chapman’s 12 year old son Matt!
Said Jon: ‘We had heard that there was a seal in the area of Teddington Lock, so we went down there on a January Sunday afternoon. The seal was in the area of the upstream lock gates, very close to where the Venturer moors for SoR. There were quite a few people there, and it was clearly enjoying the attention, diving down and popping up, in one case a few feet from us when we were standing on the bridge on top of the barge lock gates that leads you over to the Lock Island. Finally, it set off upstream very purposefully towards Kingston, and Matt did a great job capturing it for posterity!
Following the publicity our clients have apparently spent a lot of time marine mammal spotting (unsuccessfully so far)...
Many of us have seen Pete Gallon with a piece of rope in his hand or bits of Venturer spread around him, but it turns out that it was a paintbrush that got him started with the Charity. George Mellet (one of our ‘regular’ skippers in the days before Peter Oldham) was an old friend and invited him to come along and help with some maintenance back in 2007. Pete’s career was as a BT telephone engineer, and he says the thing he loved best was solving engineering problems. Perfect for the Venturer! He has been a constant source of help in installing new equipment or maintaining the old. And Pete loves rope work and splicing. Venturer is all the more shipshape for his many hours of splicing and whipping.
He also has a long river connection. From joining the Sea Cadets in 1957 he was involved in rowing and sailing and latterly some (small) powerboating, and he learned later that his grandfather had a house on Trowlock Island around 1910. So from a bit of ad hoc maintenance Pete joined the crewing ranks and after a few years became a mate, and he remains a core member of the Venturer’s maintenance team.
He is particularly fond of helping with School on the River. This relates to his other work with the Twickenham Sea Cadets – ‘Chief Gallon’ recently received the Captain's Medal for 50 years' adult service! He said that the response of the kids to information about the river and boating, to all new ideas, is superb and a great experience.
Volunteer Profile - Pete Gallon
Education Programme - new pilot
The Venturer made her way down river in the middle of October to explore the delivery of Eco-Venturers to inner city London schools. She cruised down with the York House Society (the trip back had Abbeyfield Care Home on board) and then moored at the Hermitage Community Moorings (adjacent to Tower Bridge, the same place the Friends' cruise moored in July) for the week. From the Hermitage website: The mooring provides berths for up to 20 historic vessels enabling a mixture of live-aboard, recreational and visitor use. HCM also provides river access for local people, including educational and recreational facilities. So a perfect location for the historic Venturer to provide educational services!
This was a pilot week to explore the opportunity to deliver some of our education programme to inner city schools, giving children from other areas of London the same opportunity as children living near Kingston and Teddington. The exercise tested the site, the programme and how it all fitted together. Four groups of Year 5 children from a school in the Borough of Barking and Dagenham participated in specially adapted Eco Venturers' days. Most knew something of the significance of their area in the history of London's river and were very excited to have the opportunity to explore Hermitage, visit Thames Venturer and to learn about green design and tech and sustainable living in the midst of so many historic boats. At the end of the day quite a few children said they would love to live on a boat!
The children were taught on the boat, on the shoreside and in the classroom, and the feedback from the children, the schools and the volunteers was overwhelmingly positive. It was a stunning site, in the heart of a vibrant London with the cityscape behind, on a powerful tidal river - an inspiring place to teach. It was quite different to quiet Teddington! The historic vessels moored at HCM gave context to London’s historic past, its docks and the importance of the Thames for trade and transport.
The Chair of HCM said how closely we met their charitable aims, both in Education and the Environment, and that she hoped we would return. One child said he was 'proud to have been on a boat', another 'I like how the olden-day boats were designed using sails and wind power' and another 'it would take a lot of human energy to power all the things we use electricity for' – so the message was getting through!
This exercise speaks to a number of things. With the second boat in prospect this can let us access a whole new community of prospective clients. City Bridge Trust, one of our longstanding funders, will undoubtedly be delighted that we are exploring ways to offer our services to inner city communities and we are hoping to attract other City-based funders who might be keen to fund work with inner city communities. And it lets us broaden our reach generally, offering services to the wider public.
A second trial week is planned for April, and if all goes well the Venturer might be spending a couple of weeks each season down river!
Know Your Trustees - Keith Knox
Keith is our Vice Chair and Lead Trustee for Operations, and Trustee responsible for Volunteers. From Keith:
I have been involved with the sea all my life, born in the North East and moved down to Southampton in my teenage years. My father was a Customs and Excise officer and I started sailing at the age of 10 in a small dinghy called a Kombi from Scandinavia, which had a dipping lug sail. I progressed to a Cadet and then started to crew for my father in a 505 dinghy (15 foot). Not an easy thing to do, arguing with your dad whilst racing in Southampton Water!
My father then built a 30 foot cruiser in a bonded warehouse in Southampton Docks, courtesy of the British Docks Board, which was launched by crane into the cross channel terminal dock, now Ocean Village. I sailed this with family and friends around the Solent for many years. My winters were spent as Able Seaman Knox setting to rights the ravages of a summer’s sailing under the management of my father. Many a happy weekend was spent antifouling the hull whilst my friends enjoyed their teenage years!
I left Southampton for university in London and have lived there ever since. I ended up as Logistics Director for an International Aid Organisation which meant I was in charge of getting disaster aid to difficult parts of the world by all forms of transport so my love for the sea continued to be an active part of my life. My family all live in Southampton and are involved in various forms of boating and I still get involved in this side of things.
Whilst travelling the world on aid matters I met RTBP Trustee Paul Barry, whose company supplied mine with containers. He was always talking about the Charity and when I retired in 2009 I joined as a Trustee and volunteer crew.
I love what I do although I didn’t realise that river boating had such different ‘conventions’ to open water sailing! I also now am a volunteer teacher for SoR which is ironic because my two sisters were both primary teachers but teaching never “floated my boat” so to speak – until now!
Heritage Day reports
Walton 12th September (report from Pete Gallon)
The weather started off a little moist but soon improved for our run up to Walton Anglers mooring. We took a small party of clients up with us who enjoyed cups of various warm beverages etc. This party went ashore and others came on board for the return trip to Kingston later on in the day.
The Venturer was moored from 12-4pm and when the crew had a little free time we were able to take in the various stalls and exhibits. One impressive boat on show was an ex Royal Yacht Britannia "Jolly boat", beautifully restored by her owner and being used to take visitors on runs up and down the river. Another outstanding stall was the hog roast; it was so good that he sold out of boar well before the official closing time, but did it smell wonderful! There were stalls selling cakes and other goodies, a dog show and the local Sea Cadets held a display of boat handling.
Venturer was open to the public and we had 183 visitors who spent over £200 on our treasure hunt, tea/coffee and cakes, and the gate. Peter Oldham was invited to be interviewed by the roving radio reporter but decided to delegate the job to me, I wonder why? However all seemed to go well as I had my 5 minutes of fame describing the barge and our activities to all and sundry.
Having had a very active day, with Linda Varney dispensing tea and cakes (very tasty) in the galley and the rest of us giving guided tours of the boat and running the treasure hunt on-board, we left the mooring at about 17:30 and made our way back to Kingston getting there at about 19:00. Phew!
The passengers there and back were organised by Elmbridge Community Link and the day was funded and arranged by the Walton Heritage Day organising committee led by Melvyn Mills.
Pippa subsequently received a lovely email from Melvyn who said, 'Please pass on our grateful thanks to Skipper Peter and his crew for all of their wonderful work last Saturday. I believe that you had many visitors and certainly everyone who attended thought that the Thames Venturer, as always, was the highlight of our day.'
Also a very successful day but my roving reporter Pete Gallon was otherwise engaged with his Sea Cadets! The boat was moored outside John Lewis and welcomed 93 visitors who spent nearly £150. But the biggest success was below decks by a team of volunteers who signed up a number of great new potential volunteers.
Thank you to everyone who crewed, manned the boat, baked cakes or helped in other ways on both days!
Kingston 13th September