The second year of our community led initiative was undoubtedly our busiest ever and we are proud of what we have achieved in just a short space of time.
In summary, we were able to take over 1000 people out sailing this year, the first time we have broken that number, the majority of which were through our free sailing programme.
We have also created relationships with several local schools and community groups and started working with KCC’s children services, creating experiences for families and young people. Working with these groups is really rewarding and the feedback has been brilliant:
I just wanted to say thank you for the introduction to sailing yesterday,
the children thoroughly enjoyed it as did my husband and myself. The
children would love to try their hand to this again… amazing
Foster Parent, September 2022
However, we also had plenty of ‘private’ work this year and this demonstrates the benefits of opening the barge to as wide an audience as possible – the more people that can get aboard and experience the magic of actually sailing a Thames barge, the more people will want to engage with them going forward.
The downside of being busy is that we did not have time to attend any barge matches other than the Medway Match. However, in mid September, we trialled a potential new Skipper – as we currently only have one – which went really well. Having two skippers available next year will more than double our capacity and ensure we can continue to support the barge matches around the coast.
One of the more unusual jobs of the year involved us spending a week sailing between Whitstable and Queenborough with a dance troupe aboard. We still have not quite got our head around it, but the weather was wonderful. We also took the smack out for a run to Whitstable for the Harbour Day, giving us a chance to scrub off on the beach. The local kids took umbrage as we took up a bit of the quayside they use for tombstoning, but we used the time to smarten the smack up.
We enjoyed nipping across to Essex for the Clacton Air Show and welcomed back the Festival of Chatham Reach in September. However, the biggest undertaking for us was the organising of the Jubilee River Pageant, an event that took months of planning and just needed it not to be wet and windy, which of course it was! However, enough ships turned out regardless to make it a success – thank goodness!
So the sailing and community engagement side of things was a great success, but one of the elements that needs work is building our patron base. Although we have had 199 sign ups (just one off our initial 200 target!), growth has been fairly flat this year due to some patrons dropping off and our goal of 10000 patrons to create a ‘National Trust’ of East Coast craft seems a long way off.
However, we are increasing our back office team and the addition of the new skipper will free up time for promotion and creating new relationships, so fingers crossed we’ll see an uptick next year. The more patrons, the more we can offer – if you have been considering signing up, please take a look at the page today – www.patreon.com/tillerandwheel
The barge is now laid up for winter and our programme of works is about to begin – including some new deck and planking, but those spring days will soon roll around and the start of the 2023 season can not come soon enough!