Friends of RTBP Summer Newsletter
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Dear Friends of the River Thames Boat Project,
We have another bumper issue for you with a bit of a focus on the Education and Learning Programme - not actually planned that way but Gemma kept feeding me more interesting bits about what has been happening in Education and I thought everyone would be interested! There is a lot more going on in that part of the Charity than I was ever aware of.
And you may notice that there isn’t an article in the current issue about the new strategy/ boat. This is because there is some great progress to talk about and a special newsletter is being planned. We finish this time with the story of the special Anniversary Cruise - it's a fairly long story but I thought all worth including - and of course some of you reading this were a part of it. If another such cruise gets organised I'll be the first to sign on...
From the Wheelhouse
It's at this time of year that the season tends to blur into a continuous round of trips, pump outs, refuelling, and cups of tea!
The highlight of the season so far would probably be the weather - but having had such a dry summer, river levels are down meaning we have to be conscious of low water levels. The Port of London Authority recently carried out a survey down stream of Teddington only to discover some unusual shallow spots. Investigation discovered what appears to be a pontoon structure which had grounded just upstream of Eel Pie Island - presumably washed down in the floods last year!
A lack of summer traffic has not gone unnoticed by the lock keepers who frequently remark how quiet the river is, but for us it smooths the way. In the busiest time of year our volunteers continue to make sacrifices to make cruises special and indeed possible. Special mention must go to the five 'roast chicken crew' - it's a long story... [Editor's note - apparently a full Sunday roast lunch was prepared for 22 people on a residential trip - impressive!] And to several regular crew who have had to temporarily stand down for health reasons (nothing to do with crewing on the Venturer!) we wish speedy recoveries.
Peter Oldham, Skipper
East Sheen Beavers
The East Sheen Beavers Pacific Colony do an annual fundraising stint for a charity. After a wonderful Environmental Day on the boat, the Beavers decided to donate the proceeds of their hard work (they were doing odd jobs around the house for 20p) to the River Thames Boat Project. 15 Beavers raised £96 (that is a lot of 20ps!) and each Beaver received a Certificate from the Charity.
‘The Environmental Day was perfect, and the parent helpers and Beavers really enjoyed it. The highlights seem to be finding out the wind speed by throwing the stick in the river, learning about the archaeological items found by the Thames and blowing bubbles! I will definitely try to make it an annual event with my Beavers. Thank you so much!’ Beaver Leader, East Sheen Beavers, June 2015
And the East Sheen Beavers Atlantic Colony also had a fantastic day on the boat!
Gemma Hindi - Environmental Education Coordinator
Gemma has been our Environmental Education Coordinator since April 2013. Along with many of you I wasn’t sure exactly what an Environmental Education Coordinator does so I thought I would ask!
In addition to her 2½ days a week position with the Charity, Gemma (MSc Environment Science and Society, dissertation on environmental education) runs her own Forest School and outdoor learning programmes aimed at engaging children, young people and adults in their local environment – parks, woodlands and school grounds. She is also an Eco Schools Assessor for Eco Schools England and Keep Britain Tidy (helpful in setting up Eco Venturers, below) and a qualified Forest School Leader (BTEC3). Living in Streatham, she hadn’t heard about the Boat Project until this position popped up on the 'environmentjob' website, but it’s no surprise she came calling when she saw it.
Her initial three year brief was to manage the existing education and learning programmes, update the SoR Education Pack resource for teachers (to link with the new curriculum), to write and launch a new sustainability programme (Eco Venturers, launched in April this year), and to expand the informal learning programmes for youth groups and teacher training. Another successful goal was increasing bookings, especially at non-peak times.
She has also widened the variety of client groups that book with us to match the new programmes (more detail below in ‘Education and Learning Programme’) and in 2013-14 she recruited and trained a fantastic new team of volunteer teachers to deliver the workshops. She told me that since the new curriculum change, schools are increasingly looking for flexibility and diversity in workshop topics, adaptations for different year groups, and potentially a choice of locations.
With the new boat on the horizon, this year she will be testing demand and capacity, adapting our current programmes to suit a wide variety of client groups, and (funding dependant) hopefully launching a citizen science programme which aims to involve local communities in testing and improving their local river environment.
From Gemma: ‘I’d like to say a huge thanks to the education and learning volunteers (both teachers and crew) as we couldn’t have achieved any of this without them!’
And thanks go to City Bridge Trust, BAA Heathrow Community Fund and the Royal Borough of Kingston-Upon-Thames whose funding support has meant we have Gemma and the new programmes.
The boat trips provide something different from their usual outings. They also usually invite people from other UR homes, so the experience provides an opportunity to interact and socialise with different people and with the crew. She said that the skipper Peter is a lovely person, very friendly and open and always willing to help with whatever he can, as are the crew.
A Client Story: United Response
United Response (UR) is a community based national charity supporting around 2,000 adults and young people with a wide range of disabilities and mental health needs to take control of their lives. It provides everything from a few hours of support a week to 24 hour care. The name United Response was coined to reflect a desire for everyone, from all parts of the community, to come together with people with learning disabilities and to work together to support them to live independently. Its vision is a society where disabled people are equal participants and have access to the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.
Groups from four different UR residential homes come on the Venturer - more than 30 trips in all over the past ten years. Lucia Clari, UR Service Manager at Keller Road, told me that she first heard about RTBP through a work colleague in 2008 and decided to try it out, and was very impressed from the start. She said that everyone who has been on these trips has enjoyed them enormously and are relaxed and full of smiles and laughter – clients and staff alike. The boat trips provide an opportunity for the people they support to experience the Thames and to have a relaxing, enjoyable day out. The trips are also educational and they have learned many interesting things from running the boat to things about special places along the river. Everyone that has been on the boat wants to return again.
From Paul, one of the people they support: ‘Very interesting and enjoyed watching as we passed by all the houses. It was exciting when we turned around!’
And from Lucia ‘It’s a fantastic opportunity for the people we support to experience the River Thames in a safe, relaxing and friendly environment.’
Education and Learning Programme
We all know about ‘School on the River’ (SoR), but the Charity’s education arm now offers a great deal more than that! As described above, Gemma has been working hard to expand our offerings and the groups we offer to. The original SoR covers Key Stage 2 (years 3-6, ages 7-11) Geography and Science. Eco Venturers (EV) is designed to be adaptable to individual school needs and can address curriculum topics Science, Design & Technology, Geography and PSHE (personal, social, health and economic education). In addition to Key Stage 2, in early July the pilot Eco Venturers for Key Stage 1 (year 2) was delivered successfully (see below). There have also been secondary school (Key Stage 3) enquiries.
Schools participating in Eco-Schools (an international award programme helping schools become more sustainable) are interested in days focusing on reducing waste, renewable energy and water conservation, which Eco Venturers can also be adapted for. Human Geography and Thames History workshops are being developed, using new resources provided by Thames Learning Group (TLG).
We have held an adult London educators residential weekend (see story about LEEF in the sidebar) and a second teacher training college is booked for outdoor learning training this autumn. Youth groups such as scouts and guides are participating in river clean-up activities (story below) and we are targeting older youth groups that provide guidance and life skills for disadvantaged young people.
So just a few things to keep the Education team busy!
The Russell School Eco Venturers Pilot
On 6 July the Year 2 children from The Russell School arrived on board for an Eco Venturers day. They were boat detectives, investigating Venturer for her shape, design and what materials she was made out of. They then looked at different types of boats and researched the design, shape or boat they wanted to make, and chose which materials out of our recycling rubbish they wanted to use. After making their boats, they tested them on water to see if they floated and were waterproof. All succeeded! The children then evaluated their design to see what they would change to make the toy junk model boat even better.
The pupils also took part in a river clean up, collecting almost 20 kg of rubbish from the foreshore and riverbanks at Teddington, and learning about how this will help the river wildlife. At the end of the day the Veolia waste and recycling team arrived to collect the recyclable rubbish, and did a Q&A session with the children about recycling and what Veolia does. The children met the bin men and saw the truck, and received a selection of recycled Veolia stationary made out of plastic bottles and newspapers.
‘We all had a fantastic day and the class were really enthused by the litter picking activity and the boat designing and making activity too.’ Teacher, The Russell School (Eco Venturers KS1), July 2015
Know Your Trustees - Louise Sibley
Louise left corporate life (Vice President, International Communications, at GlaxoSmithKline) in 2004. Her 35 year corporate career spanned the oil, telecoms, engineering, IT and healthcare industries, and a spell running her own comms business – all of which means a broad experience for whatever comes her way. She told me that in the 1970s she was the third woman ever to set foot on an oil platform (Margaret Thatcher and a Blue Peter presenter being the first two) – women apparently being as welcome on oil platforms as they were on ships…
In the process of reinventing herself in 2004 (which included training and working for several years as a senior executive coach) she came across the River Thames Boat Project at a local event. This wasn’t the first time she had heard about us - in the 1990s she read a local newspaper piece about the Charity and thought ‘if I ever have time to volunteer that’s what I’d want to do’. With time now available, she signed on: ‘but don’t ask me to do any fundraising’! It was the end of the season, so her first volunteer experience was helping Miranda with plans for Venturer’s trip to the 2005 International Boat Show.
There followed several years of crewing with a preference for working with groups of young people and for residential trips. (One of the things she is most proud of in her time at the Charity is the 2011 Chernobyl Children’s Cruise.) After the 2008 AGM, following Paul Barry’s plea for new trustees, she found herself on the Board ‘overwhelmed by such august company’. She took over the Chair from Richard Robinson in 2013.
Louise says that she has always been keen on social enterprise and community partnerships, making RTBP a great fit with her lifelong interest in boating (her first voyage on the Thames was at the age of 7). She admits to being very ambitious for the Charity and believes that the current trend towards more outdoor activities for young and old means huge potential to build on its success. The new boat is just a start! Her personal goal for the Charity is ‘Do more, for more. Care more’.
RTBP is not all that keeps her busy. As well as being Chair of the River Thames Boat Project she is on the Board of the Abraham Path Initiative, an international NGO that is supporting the development of a long-distance walking trail across the Middle East and personally leads walks there for the UK Friends of the Path. She is also a Governor of Trinity College London, an enterprise that promotes education, skill development and qualifications in the performing arts: a varied and challenging portfolio!
Louise said to me: “I believe that the right work can keep us happy. As a former sufferer from depression, I find that what keeps me going is a busy, productive life - doing what I love, among great people. What that means is different for all of us but, if you ask me, RTBP accounts for quite a large part of the formula!”
A Fabulous Weekend
John Frye's fabulous photos tell much of the story of the anniversary cruise, but I wanted to provide some of the background.
As members of the Friends group gathered on the dock in glorious sunshine, we were prepared for a delightful weekend on the river. But I don't think any of us could have guessed just how great a time we were going to have. The sail down to Chiswick Pier in the late afternoon was cooling after the shore side heat as we sipped drinks and nibbled canapés on deck. Down below the crew worked feverishly stowing stores, preparing dinner and laying out our cabins.
Later as we sat down for dinner we were joined by our first guest, Wayne from the RNLI, who gave a great after dinner speech. We were also joined by one of the two lifeboats and crew based at Chiswick. Most of us knew the guys were busy but I don't think we appreciated just what proportion of UK RNLI activity the Thames lifeboat stations represent.
Skipping over the thunder and lightning which stopped some people getting a good night’s sleep, come Saturday morning the river was covered in atmospheric mist as we set sail downstream. Breakfast was served but there were just too many things to see to stay down below for long. In addition to skipper Geoff, we were joined by Mate Peter Finch. Peter is a long-time Volunteer Mate and Friend and is also Chairman of the River Thames Society.
If Peter was a tour guide he could charge a fortune - he is an expert on every bridge, building and boat on the river. All too soon we were tying up at the Hermitage Moorings just downstream of Tower Bridge for the next event in our schedule and one of the best views on the river to watch the Thames Historic Barge rowing race. Those thinking along the lines of the Oxford and Cambridge race couldn't be more wrong. The guys don't row so much as force the barges through the water with oars that might have come from a Roman galley. All of this effort while we tucked in to lunch.
Late afternoon we had time to wander around historic Wapping - or snooze on deck - before the evening’s meal and dinner guests. We were joined by Jack Faram, one of the founders of the Barge race and by background a lighterman, and by Charlie McLaren, head of the Hermitage Mooring team. Two very different perspectives on the river and its use were presented, both highly informed and entertaining but definitely showing the varied use of the river. After another great meal and much wine, we settled down to a quiet and restful night as the river itself settled down for the night.
Sunday morning dawned overcast with intermittent rain as we began our sail downriver and once again Peter was the perfect guide. The bacon sandwiches took the edge off of the morning chill. The last time the Venturer was in this part of the world was to attend the London Boat show 10 years ago. We sailed on past the entrance to the dock so perhaps went further down river this time - at least one person was claiming it as a record. Fortunately as we turned around to catch the tide back upstream the weather improved and provided us with a fabulous sail.
We were early for Richmond lock so anchored off Syon Reach for a very pleasant cup of tea before returning home to Kingston a very happy band of sailors. Louise had billed this as an anniversary cruise, 10 years since we last sailed past Tower Bridge. After such a great sail I very much doubt it will be another 10 years before we do this again.
With thanks to the amazing crew who put in such hard work. It may have been a fundraising cruise for the charity (with about £2,000 raised), but it was definitely a fun cruise for the Friends.
Paul Boyd, Friends Trustee