A special vessel was launched in the Creek basin this month. The optimistically named 'Bridget' – a reference to the long-awaited new opening creek crossing – was built by eight amateur boat builders aged between 12 and 65.
This elegant wooden rowing skiff is the product of Faversham craftsman Alan Thorne's latest community project, the Boat Building Experience. “I'm thrilled with it and it was a great experience for them,” he said as Bridget took to the water for the first time.
A professional boatbuilder for many decades, Alan is passionate about sharing his skills and knowledge. He's a patient and enthusiastic teacher whose workshops have changed lives. The Creek Learning Project, a training course he ran with the late Brenda Chester, for example, helped several local long-term unemployed people back into full-time work.
Although rewarding, the Boat Building Experience has been costly at around £5,000 and Alan hopes to attract funding and support to continue it in future.
The project grew out of BoatCamp, a week-long schoolkids' boat-building programme Alan ran with the Faversham Creek Trust last summer. Helped by his son Mike Thorne, Alan taught a group of young people from Abbey School to build two simple wooden boats and row them on Faversham Creek. A great success, the experience inspired one student, Louis Denton, in particular.
“We got to know his parents Lottie and Jamie quite well and the whole thing had such an impact on Louis' life in terms of confidence and having an interest in boats and boating,” said Alan. “They kept asking if there was anything he could come down and volunteer for.”
So Alan decided to start a new project: building more complicated boat with Louis and a new group of adults and young people. This time Louis, together with Freya Farmer, Iggy McNally, Ben Page, Chris Cummins, Martine Carruthers, Tim Hopper and Simon Hepburn would build a beautiful 15ft rowing boat, a John Welsford design called a 'Joansa'.
Working two days a week in Alan's workshop in the Faversham Creek Trust's Purifier Building, they finished the traditional style wooden clinker construction skiff to a high standard in just five months.
Although he would prefer to keep 'Bridget' if possible, Alan is considering selling her to fund a similar future initiative. “We could do it as soon as possible to have a launch in the summer. If there's funding behind it, it doesn't have to be restricted to two days a week. It could be more, with more people involved,” he says. “I hope we can perpetuate the idea of getting out on the creek on boats like these.”
Pictures provided by kind permission of MALCOLM HAZLETON