Tooleys looks to the future with new initiatives

Tooley's Boatyard, Banbury. Dancing Duck refurbishment. From the left, Sarah Jackson, Jamie Simmons and Matt Armitage. NNL-180417-164829009
Tooley's Boatyard, Banbury. Dancing Duck refurbishment. From the left, Sarah Jackson, Jamie Simmons and Matt Armitage. NNL-180417-164829009

Tooley’s historic boatyard is looking to the future with a number of initiatives to engage the public and ensure the yard’s continued presence.

Beginning this Saturday, April 28, Tooleys will open its doors to the public during its Heritage Open Days.

Tooley's Boatyard, Banbury. Dancing Duck refurbishment. From the left, Sarah Jackson, Jamie Simmons and Matt Armitage. NNL-180417-164734009

Tooley's Boatyard, Banbury. Dancing Duck refurbishment. From the left, Sarah Jackson, Jamie Simmons and Matt Armitage. NNL-180417-164734009

For the past 15 years proprietor, Matt Armitage, has always welcomed the public and has given tours of the 228-year-old facility, the oldest continually running dry dock in the UK, on an ad hoc basis.

Between 10am and 12.30pm every Saturday, the boatyard will allow anyone to see the inner workings of the dry dock not normally accessible to the public .

Matt said: “How it works now is that if anyone turns up and asks for a tour, I give them a tour, but the Heritage Open Day idea will be formal.

“Rather than stopping work and taking two people around and saying ‘watch this area’ and ‘watch that area’, what we’re going to do is open it up and they will be able to walk around, go into the belt room, poke their heads into the workshops and there will be people around to answer questions.”

In addition to the access all areas approach the boatyard will be offering additional extras utilising the core skills of Matt and his employees. Matt said: “On top of that they can take a boat trip, for a small cost. They can take a poker course for a small cost in the forge.”

The poker course is a natural addition to the blacksmith courses the yard presently runs and its involvement in the national Men’s Shed initiative which allows use of the 200-year-old forge for personal projects.

Matt said: “Basically we’ll be in the forge, and for a small fee you’ll be able to make something. Within 15 minutes you will have made something. It’s more like a forge experience.”

Public interest in the yard has been ongoing since Matt rescued it from potential closure during the Castle Quay Shopping Centre construction and expansion.

The yard also featured in series two of Great Canal Journeys with Timothy West and Prunella Scales and Matt hopes to solidify this interest, and the dry dock’s history to secure its future.

Matt said: “The idea of all of this isn’t to make our millions but to have a group of volunteers to make enough money to sustain itself and plough back into it to keep it alive.”

He added: “We’re looking at turning this side of the business into a trust in the future which will look after all the good things we want to do.”

To volunteer or find out more about Tooley’s visit www.tooleysboatyard.co.uk or call 01295 272 917.

In addition Tooley’s are about to launch a floating dining barge.

The Dancing Duck, a 39-foot handcrafted canal barge, is nearing the end of its refurbishment into a floating dining experience.

The barge was built at Tooley’s in 2007 but spent much of its life in Oxford, returning to the boatyard last year.

In just two weeks the £10,000 refurbishment is expected to be complete offering cruising dining for up to 12 people.

Matt Armitage, proprietor of the yard for the past 15 years, said: “The law allows us to have 12 people or else it becomes a full on passenger vessel.

“It’s a small passenger vessel anyway but as soon as you go over 12 the law changes and it becomes very difficult.”

He added: “There will be tables, a big table at the front and a kitchen at the back with a loo.”

Jamie Simmons, master craftsman at the yard has been the brawn and brains behind the renovation.

He said: “I think in three weeks it will be completely finished. When you have a blank canvass and strip it out I’m filling a tube, it’s like a tube of Smarties.”

The plan is to offer small nibbles and drinks and increase the food offerings as the idea takes off.

Jamie said: “There will be teas, coffee and scones.”

Matt added: “We’ll probably do little deals, we’ll start off with cream teas then we will progress on.”

Jamie added: “The other ideas were a Prosecco afternoon tea, curry evenings, fish and chip evenings, things like that.”

A floating dining experience within the heart of the current Castle Quay shopping centre and the new developments of CQ2, due to begin in the summer, will be a unique experience few towns can match.

Matt said: “When Castle Quay 2 kicks in we’ll probably offer starters and people can come in for an aperitif.”

The Dancing Duck’s very first outing in its new guise will be a tour for school children.

The barge will also continue to be used for RYA Inland Waterways Helmsman Courses.