I became Chair of Trustees for the charity on the 1st March 2018 and therefore I am reporting on the year to 31st March 2018 as Louise Sibley ended her year of office early for personal reasons. I have worked “in tandem” as Vice Chair with Louise for five years and take this opportunity to thank her for all the work she has undertaken for the charity during a period of growth; a period that was challenging due to the construction of a new boat and major issues concerning our mooring at Kingston. Her dedication to the charity has been exceptional and I hope that she enjoys her new challenges.
The year to 31st March 2018 was a difficult year because the construction of Thames Discoverer was delayed and we did not take delivery until February 2018, which left little time for crew training and boat trials for the new season. My thanks to Miranda and to Peter for managing to make Thames Discoverer operational despite many small defects that needed to be resolved.
However, despite these problems, Thames Discoverer is a beautiful vessel and handles really well, as many of our Volunteer Skippers have found, as they trained to take her out during the 2018/2019 season.
At the same time as the difficulties with Thames Discoverer, we have had to maintain our regular bookings and cruises with Thames Venturer, which has meant that Peter and Pippa have had a heavy work load which they have managed with unflinching cheerfulness and efficiency. Zaria joined the staff team in Jan 2017 as our Environmental Education Coordinator and has made great strides with the education programmes. We see these as continuing to develop in the years to come.
In parallel with boat operation there have been our efforts to secure long-term moorings for each vessel. While we can claim long-term residency at the Barge Dock, we have still not been granted the promised 20 years’ licence. Meanwhile, a new planning application has been submitted by the developers, so we continue to put pressure on Keyway Estates and the Council to make good their promises.
Last year we were granted planning permission to improve Canbury Wharf as a second community boat mooring, and we have been promised a long-term lease from the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames (RBKuT). We still have to plan and raise funds for the works on the wharf, which will begin only when we have secured the lease.
In October, Sonja, our Marketing Manager, left RTBP to fill a senior position with a charity local to her home which left a big gap for us to fill. The Trustees decided to merge the two roles of marketing and fundraising and create a new full time Marketing and Fundraising position. With the completion of Thames Discoverer, one of Miranda’s two roles became redundant and her second role of fundraising/community liaison was incorporated into the new Marketing and Fundraising role. This meant that Miranda had to make the decision whether to apply for the new role or take redundancy.
Much discussion has taken place about the aftermath of these events. All I can say in respect of this reporting period is that decisions were taken by the Board in the best interests of the charity and we all wish Miranda well for the future.
Financially, we have had a strong year although we have not received the development income that we had last year to fund our boat build. There has been a small rise in income generated from fees and charges which is pleasing given the difficult economic environment that we are trading in. I would like to thank Pippa for all her work in keeping the finances and office running smoothly and efficiently.
I must thank all of you for your support during this testing period. To the Trustees and staff, my thanks to you. For all the volunteers, members and Friends, your continuing devotion to the charity has been immense and is greatly appreciated.
In particular, I would like to thank Richard Robinson, retiring Trustee and past Chair, for his sterling service over a long period of time. He has been a great servant of the charity and become a personal friend.
Keith Knox, Chair of Trustees
OPERATIONS – CRUISES AND EDUCATIONAL ACTIVITIES
In 2017/18 we delivered 90 cruises on the river with groups of older and vulnerable people. We also ran 55 education days/activity sessions. Through these we continued in every way to provide special days and memorable experiences.
We continue to benefit from loyal clients who plan our therapeutic cruises far in advance. However, we are always striving to develop new clients and new areas of benefit. Experience and feedback from 2016-17 led us to offer shorter trips and half day cruises as well as our full days. This was intended to address some issues of affordability as well as to accommodate the needs of our older/more vulnerable clients who can find full days tiring. We will continue to build our knowledge in this area and will review our findings and incorporate them into our planning for next season. We will continue to provide flexibility in our offer as we are always mindful of the needs of our clients. We also put in place a plan to deliver 6 Linking People Afloat days during the season. These days are designed to reach individual clients who are not supported by a group and to bring communities together, build friendships and reduce isolation. Feedback is positive, and we will continue to build on this part of our offer. We also made progress against our objective of extending our cruise offering upstream. Following a successful grant bid for the Walton area of benefit, we put plans together to deliver therapeutic cruises during the upcoming season from Walton and Weybridge.
Thames Venturer withdrew from tidal trips when her operating licence expired in September. As a result, our educational programme at Hermitage was successfully adapted to be delivered from the pier house with the support of Hermitage River Projects and the moorings staff and residents. Marketing continues to develop the number of east London schools our programme will appeal to.
We also conducted some market research into the feasibility of extending our education offer for home educating families who are increasing in number. There was a good response to the research and so a pilot was planned and developed to be marketed and delivered in the following year. Finally, we researched and designed a new module to integrate into our School on the River days. Following our successful grant from the Heathrow Community Fund, we developed Drastic Plastic, which is a module covering plastic pollution. Due to the publicity from David Attenborough’s Blue Planet and general media focus and interest it is a very current and relevant topic. Research and the design of the content was started and the pilot of 5 teaching days was planned for the summer term 2018. The addition of Drastic Plastic to our programme offers up to date content which will help to promote our educational offer.
Only a small proportion of our costs are covered by fees and charges to clients and, with the ongoing need to keep prices affordable, the charity continues to place more emphasis on fundraising to cover our fixed costs. Grant funding continues to be massively over subscribed, and while the charity benefits greatly from those foundations, trusts and individuals who continue to support us, this is an area which is under strong competitive attack, meaning our search for alternative sources of funds to become self-sustaining must be stepped up.
Our marketing and fundraising executive, Sonja, who joined in the previous year made great progress in putting plans and activities in place to increase our fundraising and communication activities, alongside marketing. Our website was updated and increased attention placed on social media. We continue to prioritise the most effective activities and partner with the local community in ways which positively promote our aims and communicate our purpose.
Sonja left RTBP in October and the role was not filled, as the Trustees were reviewing future requirements of the charity and the structure of the staff team.
We continued to develop other forms of fundraising, recognising that the boat is a significant asset. Private bookings increased in 2017/18 (for evening and weekend use outside core charitable time) and we welcome this trend. We also introduced further Community and Corporate Friends who support the charity with their membership fees and association. Other successful initiatives included loyal volunteers manning water stations for running events, for which the charity received a donation from the organisers; sponsorship for runners and some excellent contributions from the Waitrose Community Matters programme.
We have benefited greatly from matched funding for our development plans. We remain forever grateful to those who made the construction of Thames Discoverer possible. Having a two boat operation up and running will be a reality during the course of 2018 and we will be able to bring our special days on the river to a wider audience and for an extended season. We continue to hold in reserve, development funds for developing the dock area at Canbury Wharf and refurbishment plans for Thames Venturer. Alongside the successful launch of Thames Discoverer, these are the key projects that will take the charity to the next stage of operation.