Grand Opening - Barnstaple Pilot Gig Club

Grand Opening

At the third attempt on the morning of Saturday 22nd October 2022 Kevin Ward, Chairman of Barnstaple Pilot Gig Club CIO welcomed the Town Mayor of Barnstaple Louisa Yorke, our County, District and Town councillors, representatives from a number of organisations that helped the club with the funding for the project, suppliers that provided their services and materials for free or at cost, friends from other parts of the gig rowing community who have helped us, other town clubs, and anyone not mentioned for all help provided.

During Kevin’s address he described how in 2017, 7 years after the club’s conception in 2010 the club were once again in a position that we needed to find accommodation for the clubs growing requirement to store our gig boats and equipment. The club had been fortunate to have had storage facilities at Brunswick Wharf and then the old Glidden and Squires site to the rear of the Rugby club. Immensely grateful for the use of the latter site, this did mean a long walk along roads through the town pushing and pulling our boats, so this as well as being given notice to vacate, galvanised the clubs resolve to seek facilities that could be permanent in the town with better access to the water, quite a tall order. And so “The of the rowd” appeal was conceived.

At this point in his address Kevin made one of the numerous acknowledgements thanking the clubs Vice Chairman David Dixon for being one of the main driving forces within the project and commented on his professionalism, tenacity and his personal time he had given, for which the club would be eternally grateful.

Kevin expressed his gratitude to have been blessed with being supported by a fantastic committee and Trustees who have always stuck together and supported him and one another.

Special mention was made to Sue Kingdom our treasurer who has been exceptional throughout the project and in general, he referred to how Sue has coped with the building team, he expressed how the club are very grateful for all she has done, even though she doesn’t row.

Kevin explained how a business plan was first put to the club in the Ebberley Arms Pub in the town in late 2017 and how he could sense the doubt amongst the membership as the plan was an enormous task for a small rowing club in North Devon.

It was quite a task to identify a suitable building, considering Barnstaple was a once very busy port town.

It was explained how a fund-raising subcommittee was set up with the few that were willing, Kevin then commented that this is where the club struck upon a stroke of genius, “we were introduced to a Lady by the name of Lorna Jones”. Kevin thanked Lorna exclaiming that she had been truly amazing and although again on our first meeting I could sense that slight doubt as to our resolve, but Lorna  stuck with us, guided us, nagged us, encouraged us, put us right on a number of ideas, but most of all, helped us. Kevin expressed that “we really do owe you a debt of great gratitude”. Flowers were presented to Lorna.

It was explained how the fundraising occupied us for two years, Lorna told us from the start it would probably be something called patchwork funding, where a number of funders would fund some but not all. We started raising funds, some self-generated, some funded. We then made an enquiry about this practically derelict old warehouse from the 1800’s on Rolles Quay, which had the potential to store our boats and equipment and with some work on the poorly maintained slipway allow us to launch into the River Yeo feeding into the Taw, our home waters.

It was a mammoth task to which on the whole we were given great encouragement and support by the many in the town, you will see the names of all that have helped our project, our boathouse, on the large thank you board. You will probably appreciate me not reading out every name. I will give special mention to Fullerbrook who really helped us to get things started and the county, district and town councillors who came to our aid during and at the end of the project to allow us to complete it.

So, on the 4th August 2019 we signed papers and handed over the hard earned money which made a ramshackle, pigeon infested old warehouse building on Rolles Quay, ours.

Two other thanks yous at this point must go to Nick Authur from Slee Blackwell and Perry Mears from Peregrine Mears Architects in the town, who both helped us in the early days and at conception of the project to realise where we are today.

There was lots of excitement and a looming realisation of what we had done and what we had now got to do to turn this ramshackle near derelict building into a usable and safe place to house the club, our gig boats and equipment.

At this point we still had to fund raise to carry out the renovation, all this whilst still running a programme of rowing to keep our membership numbers up to make the project worthwhile.

I kept saying in my head and probably out loud at times that famous line from the Kevin Costner movie, Field of Dreams. “If you build it, they will come”

So, we are now clearing away years of rubbish which was on the site and fundraising again with lots of Lorna’s help and guidance.

A building team was set up with those in the club that had general trade skills and were willing to put a lot of their personal time, expertise, experience and hard work into the project, others in the club got involved when asked and the club on the whole set about the task of creating what we have today.

Kevin gave thanks and appreciation from the club to Matt Bacon from Advanced Scaffolding who provided all the scaffolding internally and externally for us to carry out the early demolition and rebuilding of the roof and walls.

He also gave thanks and great appreciation from the club to Dave and Michelle Muir from Exmoor Fascia’s for their generosity with materials and expert advice and help.

Kevin explained that when you come up the stairs to the upper deck you will see two half boat models of the Barnstaple Pilot Gig race boats Lady Freda and Nipper these were hand crafted by Patrick Bird of Kernow Boats, he also makes full size boats too, but we will talk about that another day Lorna. These models were presented to the fundraising and building team with the names of the building team on the plaque. This is your legacy to this club and to the town, describing the hard work, dedication, and service you have given.

Kevin listed the names of the core building team.

David Dixon, John Popham, Mickey Fry. Alan Pidner, Keith Baker, Steve Ford, Chris Walter

Tom Mud was also  mentioned who had carried out the majority of the painting in this building to an exceptional standard.

It was declared that this club could never repay you for what you have given to it, and I just hope guys that every time you sit down on the balcony or are rowing, retrieving your oars from the racks that you take a while and think to yourselves, we did this!

Kevin also gave mention that it would be remiss not to acknowledge the wives, partners, girlfriends that have been patient and have supported us spending the time we have, over the last three years on this building. It is a long time to wait for some blinds to put up isn’t it Shirley, it’s a bit of an in joke, sorry.

I think that these guys deserve a round of applause at least. They tell me there’s a decent bar later.

October 2019 started showing signs that the Covid pandemic was to take a grip on the country and across the world, this in some ways helped the project under strict guidelines as it stopped rowing taking place alongside so many other sports, but it also hampered the project, as any funding that might have been available was being diverted quite rightly to Covid related causes.

We as a club persevered along with Lorna assisting with fundraising and the guys completing works as we had funding for, being sometimes a little lucky, creating our own luck and working ever so hard gradually completing the task at hand.

Kevin addressed the crowd, “So here we are three years later, I could go into much more detail. There are as I have said displays, video and other recollections and stories by word of mouth that might be true depending on whose telling, that are much more interesting that listening to me read out an address. I encourage you to look and chat because there are lots more thank yous I could make to individuals and  representatives of companies that gave us advice and club members that helped us out, but we would be here all day.

It was a struggle to find our way again as a club after restrictions were lifted due to Covid. Like many clubs we have had to regroup and rebuild our membership. New training regimes have begun to bare fruit, new rowers in the club are starting to learn and be competent in the art of Pilot Gig Rowing, which can only be good for the club going forward. We have had some wins in the season,

A lady’s crew winning the Barnstaple to Bideford Bridge race and a Men’s A at Appledore sprints, a number of close 2nd’s and 3rd’s and we are generally starting to always be in contention at most regattas. Barnstaple is now starting to be seen on the circuit around the South West as contenders.

There is a winter training regime being planned ready for next season and we will compete in the North Coast Gig clubs winter league, newly named the Lundy League.

Now we have our boathouse we are going to encourage youngsters to join our junior section 11- to 16-year-old to which at one time was quite a thriving section within the club, The Barum Blades. We will hold a junior club night just for them, offering rowing, fitness training, games nights with table tennis, table football etc. together with the ability for dry training with videos of rowing and lots of fun and activities hopefully leading to them to compete at the junior championships at Hayle and Newquay.

Now, we won’t just stop. As a club we will continue to fundraise and replace equipment, we now have a building to maintain and provide for its revenue costs, we have ambition to buy a small crew bus to tow the boats to regattas and championships. And while I’ve got our councillors here, I think we would like you to view our slipway and rally support expertise, ideas and funding to improve it, but of course we can talk about that in a civilised fashion over a cup of tea.

Madam Mayor, we as a club are proud to represent the town of Barnstaple within the Pilot Gig Rowing community. We are proud that we were granted the right to carry on our livery and clothing the Barnstaple town coat of arms, ours with the crossed oars. We hope that we have, and will continue to make the town proud.

To end this address, the last thing I want to say to the club membership, supporters, funders anybody that has helped this project in any way big or small.  

 After five long years, We did it! And we got there!

Thank you.

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