The Whately Hall Hotel was the historic backdrop to a launch event that will secure the future of Tooleys Boatyard for generations to come.
The Sunday, May 12 event saw 80 invited guests including Victoria Prentis MP, Mayor John Colgrave and actor Timothy West CBE, enjoy a three course meal as Banbury’s historic boatyard announced the formation of the charitable Tooleys Trust.
The transition from a limited company to a charitable trust will safeguard the future of the oldest continuously working dry-dock on the inland waterways and open up revenue streams previously out of reach.
Matt Armitage, proprietor of the yard for the past 15 years, said “What’s happening now is we are discussing a 150 year lease. Over the years I have never received a penny of support or funding, now because we are a trust we can have lottery grants and things like that.
Many of the guests have aided the formation and offered future support of the trust including Banbury business man John Madden, director of car part firm First Line.
Matt said: “It’s taken about 18 months. When I first met John Madden he came as a mentor to give advice on how I could run the business.
“By the time I had taken him through the site he had decided that he didn’t want to be a mentor anymore, he wanted to actually help out. He was instrumental in getting people together to come up with the idea of forming a trust.”
Tooleys will now become a working museum, still undertaking repair and restoration work it has been doing since 1778. The yard will also build wooden boats and already orders have been placed.
Matt said: “We got an expert in and what he said was special about Tooleys is you guys still here working on the boats, the working attraction should be about that and all the history is the icing on the cake.”
The event also marked the 250th anniversary of ‘a General Assembly of the Company of Proprietors of the Oxford Canal Navigation’ essentially the birth of the Oxford canal and actors recreated the assembly which met at the Whately then called the Three Tuns.
Lifelong champion of the waterways and patron of Tooleys, Timothy West, said: “We didn’t know if Tooleys was going to exist at all in the future, it was very endangered. Then we got the good news that a trust was going to be formed and they asked me to be a patron and I very gladly accepted.
He added: “When Matt took over, at last we thought we’ve got somebody who is young, intelligent, forward looking, ambitious but easy to get on with and knows about it all and that’s wonderful. We’re really happy to support him.”