History in the making as Boat Project takes shape

Volunteers at the Boat Project
Volunteers at the Boat Project

Every ship needs a top crew, and when the Boat Project embarks on its maiden voyage, which will take it down the River Thames to mark the start of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, it will be thanks to a huge team effort.

Conceived around 10 years ago by performance company Lone Twin, which is led by artists Gregg Whelan and Garry Winters, the Boat Project is one of 12 from across the country which were selected by Arts Council England as part of London 2012.

Gregg and Garry’s aim was to create a fully-functioning boat constructed from pieces of wood donated by members of the public.

The 30-foot vessel, which will be named and officially launched next spring, is being lovingly put together by a team of experts and volunteers from across the area, headed by trained boatbuilder and sailing silver medallist in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Mark Covell. Gregg and Garry’s springboard for the project was working in Norway on a series of performances, many of which took place near rivers, lakes and the sea, which set the duo thinking about how vital boats are to our lives.

“We had an interest in travel and during that time we were really thinking about boats and talking to people a lot about boats, how different nations have depended on them, how we got round the world with them,” explains Gregg.

“Of course these things have become leisure now, but actually boats have this real essential relationship to human life.”

He added: “We were in Norway where a lot of people build boats and you understand there how building a boat engages the community.

“We started thinking how could we build a proper boat that could engage hundreds if not thousands of people.”

Gregg and Garry’s vision has now taken on a life of its own, in terms of some of the incredible stories behind the donations and it has certainly met their prime aim of engaging people of all ages and backgrounds.

The team has been working its way through 1,200 donations of wood.

A major part of the project is writing down all the stories, which are being collated for a dedicated book to accompany the launch, and thanks to a special map, each donor will be able to see exactly where their piece went.

“It’s been absolutely amazing that people have given away things that are so important to them and which have played a part in their lives,” says Gregg.

“All of those stories have come together to make the boat and the boat itself is an archive which has all this life in it.”

For details see www.theboatproject.co.uk and members of the public can visit any time to see how it is progressing.