Our Heritage Lottery Funded project on London Boatyards kicked off on Monday with our first volunteer training day at Richmond Yacht Club on the infamous Eel Pie Island! 

Following last year’s exciting project Life Afloat, which documented the houseboat communities on the Thames, this year we’re working again with Digital:Works. We’re also partnered with the Museum of London, and Independent Heritage Consultant Jen Kavanagh, to deliver this training to volunteers to give them the skills they need in oral history interviewing for this project

“The history of the London boatyards has an incredibly vibrant and significant history on the Thames. It is vitally important to document this history now, especially through oral history, because there are so few records of the yards themselves and the people who have worked in them along the river.”
Bea Moyes, Project Manager, Thames Festival Trust


  • (c) Hydar Dewachi

Volunteer Voices

We were thrilled to be joined by such a diverse, engaged and excited group of volunteers as they were introduced to the project and trained up in Oral History techniques.

Bea noted why volunteers are so important:

“We couldn’t do this project without our wonderful volunteers! Following their rigorous training over the next few weeks, our volunteers will be going out to do all the interviews as part of the project. They will also help us summarise and interpret these interviews, and research the background history of these boatyards. Their hard work will directly contribute to the oral history film, the published book and the final exhibitions in August and September.” 

What better way to celebrate our dedicated volunteers than featuring their voices in this week’s blog?

It was fantastic to see the myriad of reasons why our group of volunteers wanted to be involved in this project. We spoke to two volunteers to get a taste of the diverse backgrounds and connections to the project the group has.

Felicity, pictured, has no particular connection to the Thames, but edits children’s books for a living including one recently about a ship:

“It was really interesting and hopefully I’ll be able to call on that during this project…I have lived in London for a long time, and I’m very interested in the idea of capturing people’s memories before they disappear. I enjoy talking to people and I think most people have some tales to tell if you have the patience to listen.”

Jeet (pictured below) on the other hand spent much of his life surrounded by boats. He has always lived by the river, which “absolutely was the reason I went to sea at 16 which was a complete break from whatever anybody did in my family, it was a shock…this connected so well so I feel I can input, I feel at this age I have a bit more to “give” as you can remember things and then feed that into the interviews”

What do volunteers get from the project?

As well as being interested in the project, all of the volunteers were highly enthusiastic about learning new skills which they are planning on using in the future. They have a chance to interact with this living history in a direct way, and we hope the skills they learn as part of this project, they can carry onto other projects in the future.

Felicity wrote her dissertation at University in Wales on the history of the Brass Band, where oral history was a factor, and it opened her eyes to how rich a resource oral history can be:

“I would like to hone my oral history skills. When you talk to someone, you are so much more likely to find something unusual – a little aside that leads you in a whole new direction, or a detail they wouldn’t have thought worth writing down. But actually I think that’s where the gold is”


  • (c) Hydar Dewachi

Jeet wants to use the oral history skills he has learnt to talk to some inspiring young people he has met through building two boats with his children:

“In this environment I’m meeting a lot of young kids who are taking to the water because they have to – they are my heroes. If you ask me if I’m going to use these skills then yes, I have a very soft spot in my heart for these young people who are to me saying ‘I’m not going to give up – I’m going to start with a plank of floating wood and build on it’: I am just fascinated by it. These young people are showing the skills that are shown in all boat builders, but they are learning them from nowhere because they had to. A lot of what I want to do volunteer wise I need to encircle these people in there somewhere.”

The skills and the diversity of backgrounds of our volunteers are a vital part of enriching this project, with their knowledge and their own histories helping shape and add to the questions we go onto ask our interviewees.

When the volunteer training is completed in early May, we will be interviewing up to 25 people connected to the boatyards from the Thames Barrier to Teddington Lock. Keep your eyes peeled, and we’ll let you know how it’s all going on this blog as we go!

If you want further information about the project, or know someone we should speak to about their working life on the London boatyards, do email our Project Manager on bmoyes@thamesfestival.org.

Photography © Hydar Dewachi       

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