I am delighted to introduce our review of the year 2013-14, which was as busy and productive for the charity as ever. Once again our cruising year ran late and started early so spanned two financial years. It is a great indicator of our success, and a credit to our staff and volunteers, that we continue to attract clients even in February and November.
The many highlights of our year are described below. In particular, we have focused on building our education programme, thanks to a 3-year grant from the City Bridge Trust, the City of London Corporation’s Charity. I would like to pay tribute to our volunteer teachers and the School on the River (SoR) team that has re-invented our river-based learning. Alongside SoR, we now offer activities for Beavers and Scout groups, family eco-activities for open days, risk assessment training for teachers; and river clean-ups, with lots more to come.
For Miranda Jaggers and our hard-working staff, now four in number, and our 68 volunteers it was a year calling for great flexibility. Building work meant moving our operation for the 2013-14 season to an area just downstream of the Barge Dock; the winter floods required us to run some of our educational activities from our mooring rather than Teddington; we operated for a total of 149 days and evenings on the river; finally, in early March 2014 we brought Thames Venturer to her new permanent mooring on the outside of the Barge Dock. All of this kept us extremely busy.
With so many unsung heroes in our family, it is hard to pick out one activity over another but this year I particularly want to focus on fundraising and thank the many supporters and volunteers who help make our work possible. We subsidise our cruises very heavily to make them affordable to clients. With grant competition getting tougher and, when it comes to opening people’s purses, the competition getting more professional, it is essential that we elevate individual fundraising activity to its proper place. It is becoming critical to the current health and the future of the charity. That is a trend we are going to see grow, and we have devoted a proper place in this review to that part of our work.
Thank you, from all the Directors, to everyone who contributed this year.
Louise Sibley, Chair of Trustees
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE YEAR
A year for education…….
Among the exciting events of 2013-14 was welcoming our new environmental education co-ordinator, Gemma Hindi, with a brief to update and relaunch our School on the River programme (SoR) and develop new educational activities. Thanks to a generous grant from the City Bridge Trust Gemma joined us in April 2013 and got swiftly to work, aided by Sally Woodward, trustee Jane Newman and Miranda Jaggers. By the end of the financial year (March 2014) we had received 38 school and youth group bookings and worked with 1,310 children, staff and parents. We had revised our SoR lessons; produced a fresh, contemporary teaching pack; recruited and trained a group of nine volunteer SoR teachers (several new to the charity); and made a start on designing new water safety and ecology activities for children and families – some of which we are able to run on open days and at river festivals.
This busy year for education culminated in a celebration on 10 March 2014 to launch the new SoR education pack. This was attended by local school teachers, our volunteers, and a trustee from the pack’s sponsor, BAA Communities Awards. Gemma has also attracted new client schools and local Beaver groups and presented the charity at the Schools Sustainability Conference.
… and a new mooring
The other major event of the year was moving Thames Venturer to her new mooring on the outside of the Barge Dock.
Inside the dock, work by NHP (Leisure Developments) on the Pump House was completed in the autumn (built to use water heat exchange technology to serve the heating needs of the new block of apartments next door) and Venturer was invited to attend the opening, with the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Davey, present. This she did, at her new mooring outside of the dock, dressed in full regalia for the ceremony. Then, on 26 February 2014, with the first early client cruise of the new season due, and mooring piles and risers, improved level access and safety features in place, Venturer formally moved to her new permanent home – with continued thanks to NHP and the Royal Borough of Kingston.
River conditions test our versatility
At the beginning of the 2013 season and overwinter going into 2014 there were challenging river conditions with high water levels and a fast-running stream threatening to interrupt some of our early-season education activities. However, with flexibility on the part of our client schools and Beaver groups, and skipper Peter Oldham tirelessly leading visiting school children up and down the towpath, we continued to run SoR as usual – with the added benefit of being able to demonstrate the impact of extreme weather conditions on river flow.
Early in 2014 familiar areas within our upriver cruising area – Hampton Court, Molesey, Sunbury, Weybridge, Shepperton, Chertsey, Staines and Windsor all suffered severe flooding, but by the time our new cruising season started, conditions had improved and there has been no adverse impact on bookings during 2014.
In what proved a glorious summer, the 2013 season was as busy as ever with ‘Accessing the Thames’ cruises for our many clients who return year after year and 8 new groups visiting us for the first time. We enjoyed 86 full days out on the river with 1,005 clients and their carers. Full statistics are given in the public benefit statement.
Just a few of the many comments we receive are included here, showing how much our work is appreciated by both clients and carers.
In celebration of our 25th anniversary, we ran a special cruise bringing together some of our longest-standing clients with some of our most supportive funders and committed volunteers, to share their experience direct. It was an extremely moving and rewarding morning.
Improvements and maintenance
Venturer was not in dry dock for the 2013/14 winter period but the usual routine maintenance work took place at the temporary mooring alongside Canbury Gardens, and we are very grateful to the volunteers who help out with repairs and painting. Before the move to the new mooring, to improve safety, additional chains were attached to the original stanchions on the jetty.
Fundraising and events
Fundraising to make our cruises affordable is the other, essential, half of our work. We depend for this purpose, not only on the grant funding we receive thanks to the work of our office staff (£43,350 in 2013-14, including £24,000 partial award from the 3-year City Bridge Trust grant towards the education programme), but also on the efforts of Friends and volunteer fundraisers who support us, and for whose work we are truly grateful.
Of these, special mention is due to the Ladies of the Royal Mid-Surrey Golf Club – whose Captain Di Gregory chose the Boat Project as her charity for the year. Through 2013 and over the winter, their many activities – including a charity golf tournament and dinner, a bridge evening, a special shipping evening at Sheen Uncovered – resulted in a very generous grand total donation £7,517.45 and many bags of clothes collected for our Phil the Boat textile recycling scheme.
Volunteer Jenny Linter took fundraising as her special gift to the charity. She rallied local Rotary Clubs, applied to a number of local Waitrose stores for inclusion in their Community Matters donations scheme and supported any number of other fundraising efforts. John Frye and two volunteers from the Rotary Club of Teddington and Hamptons organised a dinner/dance evening at the Wharf Restaurant in aid of two charities, including ours. John also hosts and helps run Venturer Photography, using the boat for four photographic evening cruises – open to all members of the public. These cruises contributed £1,415 to income.
Many volunteers and client groups also helped us ‘Phil the Boat’ with their donations of black bags of old clothes, raising £1,320.
Venturer opened to the public at the Kingston Regatta, the Teddington River Festival and Walton Heritage Day, during which we welcomed 1,154 visitors on board.
Friends of the River Thames Boat Project is an organisation run by volunteers to bring financial support to the charity. The Friends opened the boat for a recruitment evening and held a first cruise for Corporate Friends – a new category of subscription membership to encourage business support. For the second year running, the Friends organised the Great River Race event on board Venturer. It was a glorious, sunny autumn day, raising over £900, and the occasion led to a significant pledge from a very generous corporate donor.
The single highest-earning event of 2013/14 was the charity’s Sponsored Walk on Sunday, 9 March. Forty people took part, including a group of Scouts, raising a total of £4,976. Our original route through Bushy Park, to Hampton Court Palace and back to Kingston had to be changed owing to the levy now charged by the Royal Parks for such events. Instead, despite the floods, an alternative route along the towpath was arranged, downstream from Kingston to Ham House and back to the boat for welcome refreshments. Many thanks to the Butterfield family and our volunteers who acted as stewards and caterers.
Staff, volunteer and trustees
In addition to Gemma the new education co-ordinator, we were delighted to welcome Pippa Butterfield as the charity’s new Office Manager. She replaced Anne-Marie Fothergill who left the staff for personal reasons.
Although she was with us less than a year, we are grateful to Anne-Marie for her service. After her departure, until the end of the financial year, Beej Patel helped us out with the bookkeeping – we also extend our thanks to her.
A special note of gratitude is due to Julian Galpin and skipper Peter Oldham who re-designed the new, automated, crew scheduling system that was tested and introduced during 2013.
As always we are blessed in having nearly 70 volunteers, including 15 new recruits in 2013/14, without whom the charity simply could not function. We calculate that they gave over 4,700 hours to the charity in crewing, boat maintenance and event hosting time – and that is only the hours that we track. In reality, the sum is much higher, with particular recognition owed to our ten trustees who, as volunteers, put in many uncharted hours to support the office team as well as crewing, event-hosting, investigating opportunities and simply turning up to support whenever they can.
At the AGM in November, our members voted for a new aim to grow the charity and modernise our boating facilities, in order to engage our clients more in operational work, offer more activity potential for young people and provide more self-help education and learning facilities.
This has involved the trustees in a great deal of forward thinking during the year – the first objective being to create a clear vision of what future programmes might look like, what they will offer to client groups and what that will mean for the design of any new boat. A staff away-day took place in January to brainstorm ideas, which are now being refined prior to conducting client research.
We have also looked at a range of different boats to stimulate ideas. Suffice it to say, Thames Venturer is proving a hard boat to beat in terms of our client experience. But a start has been made, we are looking ahead with enthusiasm and confidence, and starting to bring in a wider circle of people outside the charity to engage them in our future.