Thursday, 19 December 2013

The Shamrock Project

This post looks at the future of Shamrock and how to fund her once the National Maritime Museum grant ends.
As some of you may know, Shamrock is funded by a grant from the National Maritime Museum, which next year will be £36750. Unfortunately the grant funding will come to an end in 2015 and if the National Trust were to provide equivalent funding it would take much needed money from other important conservation projects. Consequently, we need to become innovative and find new ways to raise money to preserve Shamrock. A new ‘Shamrock Project’ has been established to lead the way and Nigel Tigwell has been exploring possibilities of raising money and reducing the costs of Shamrock without compromising her conservation standards.
The first big question to be answered in what Shamrock’s role is to be. From the 1970s restoration onwards she has been the country’s “Historian’s Ship”. This means she was restored to demonstrate to future generations the limitations of sail and the difficulties with which seamen of former ages had to contend. Her perpetual upkeep would keep museum curators and historians in touch with the practical challenges of traditional maintenance, preparing for sea and sailing an organic sailing ship. The combination of these roles helps historians better understand and interpret the naval campaigns and battles of the past, by supplementing the written records of operating larger, more complex wooden ships, both merchantmen and warships.
As the “Historian’s Ship” Shamrock was restored, not as a museum exhibit, but to sail in an identical material condition as she did in 1926. Cotehele Quay was reconstructed to provide a traditional Tamar small shipyard as her base, for her maintenance and to enable a holistic interpretation of the River Tamar trade under sail.  Shamrock is still maintained to traditional standards by traditional methods (OK, we occasionally use power tools) and she still remains as she was at the end of her restoration, with no anachronous materials and seaworthy.
Much of the cost of conserving Shamrock is in maintaining her in a seaworthy state and running her Boatshed, dock and slipway at Cotehele. If, for example, the powers that be decided the country no longer needed a “Historian’s Ship”, we could save a significant amount of money by not maintaining her to the same standard. Needless to say, the Shamrock crew and all at Cotehele are keen to continue with the “Historian’s Ship”, but the question has to be asked.
So, back to raising money, and how we might do it.  It really falls into 3 avenues: get better at what we already do; look for new revenue streams; or apply for grants from elsewhere. Covering grants first, this is superficially attractive but has a low chance of success. The Heritage Lottery Fund and others like to fund restoration projects, but not ongoing year-on-year maintenance. We might be able to get a grant to help with a specific expensive repair, but we would rather care for and maintain Shamrock so that she doesn't deteriorate to that state.
Our current money raising activities are primarily operating river trips on the Nancy Belle and inspiring people to make donations. We did 4 trips with Nancy Belle this year and made just over £100 for Shamrock on each trip. Obviously, we need to do more trips, but Nancy Belle’s engine is old and very noisy so perhaps we will need to spend money on a better engine first? Our visitors make donations when they have had an enjoyable experience onboard Shamrock, in the Boatshed and the Discovery Centre and when they understand the cost of preserving and operating Shamrock. If we can attract more visitors and further improve our visitors’ experience, hopefully Shamrock will receive more generous donations. We have some good ideas to achieve this, but again it all needs some level of investment.
In some respects creating new revenue streams is a fun and exciting prospect, but there is a cold reality check. We must, for example, comply with the rules for the National Trust’s unique charity status and, although the economy may be growing again, there is not a great deal of money floating around. Obvious things to consider are selling more Shamrock memorabilia, ideally from the information point within sight of her; we could sell experience days for people to join the crew on one of her voyages; but these alone will not raise the level of money we need. An opportunity we see at the moment is to use the expertise of Shaune and the Boatshed volunteers to take in commercial work: possibly maintaining, repairing or restoring wooden vessels; possibly making historic vessel replicas for sale; and running skills workshops. We are also considering establishing a ‘Friends of Shamrock’ fundraising group and starting a Shamrock raffle (for a desirable object made from Shamrock’s old timbers), but there are tight rules about these activities. Our final option currently is to seek commercial sponsors, again there are rules.
Nothing is decided yet, and there is a lot of work to do before any decisions can be made. However, take heart from our studies in the Shamrock Project that we are doing all we can to ensure our beloved Shamrock does not face a cliff edge when the grant funding ends. We will keep you updated with occasional blog articles in 2014.
In the meantime, if you know of any wealthy maritime history enthusiasts …
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
The Shamrock Project

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