The Cambria is due to float gently out of her dry dock tomorrow. It won’t be a spectacular occasion, not like the Sideways Launches Faversham was famous for in years gone by. But it will be a poignant moment for many of us.
I have sent the following to the press this morning. It continues the message we have been trying to get across for a long time. Only time is going to tell if anyone is really listening.:
The Cambria was the last Thames Barge to sail in trade. Will she be the last barge to be rebuilt at Faversham?
At about 12.45pm, 21st March Cambria will float out of the dry dock in which she has spent the past three years undergoing complete restoration.
Cambria has become an important part of life in the Town and on the Quay during that time. She was the catalyst for the setting up of the apprenticeship scheme run by Standard Quay Shipwrights, the not for profit company set up in one of the simple wooden sheds on the Quayside for this purpose.
The apprenticeship scheme is now in severe danger as, rather than being now firmly established with the apprentices continuing to work on other large wooden vessels in desperate need of the skills they have learned, the doubtful future of Standard Quay has led to the work being halted. Projects already booked in to the dry docks will keep them busy until the middle of June, but after that, the future looks bleak.
Funding already granted by the Headley Family Trust for the scheme’s future is on hold while alternative premises are sought. The grant from Swale, given to the Cambria Trust, has been withdrawn. No contracts or long term leases have been offered to anyone on the Quay which would enable the scheme to continue.
The reason the apprenticeships are possible for boat repair and maintenance at Standard Quay is because of the size of the projects involved. Normally, boat building courses cost about £10,000 per year but at Standard Quay the apprentices are paid as they learn, because they can help with the massive size of the projects. No piece of timber on a deck, sides or bottom of a Thames Barge is exactly the same. It is not like building a house with identical rooms. But it is repetitive enough that, once the basic skills have been learned, an apprentice can be a productive member of a ship-building team on a large project.
Such large scale projects will not be possible if other activities such as restaurants and shops and ‘public amenity areas’ are added. Large vessels need large timber. Large timber needs craning, it needs storage space on land and you don’t always want to keep it in exactly the same place. You can’t go around with massive baulks of timber dangling from a crane in front of a restaurant full of people swigging gin and tonic or try to avoid the BMWs parked on the free car park.
Once these kinds of activities are on the Quay; once the last bits of land that surround it have housing built on it, there will be no more Cambrias launched here. She will be the last big vessel launched on Faversham Creek.
Does this really have to happen? Please ask Swale Borough Council’s Pete Raine (Director of Regeneration) or James Freeman (Head of Development Services) what they are doing to safeguard these jobs and apprenticeships in Faversham’s centuries old ship-building tradition. There are elections coming up. Please write to your local Councillors or anyone standing for election and let them know that the future of Standard Quay, the skills and employment here and the real regeneration of the rest of Faversham Creek should be in the hands of the Town and not the hands of the Developers or of the Borough Council.
Faversham people regenerated Standard Quay, but we are about to lose it. When we do, there will be no more Cambrias.