Moored on the Thames

As a child we sometimes took the ferry from Liverpool over to New Brighton. On one occasion, whilst taking the Royal Iris ferry, my cousin Angela fell overboard. She survived the ordeal. Whilst the episode became a talking point for the family the ferry is more famous for performances of the Beatles and Gerry and the Pacemakers. I hadn’t realised that the ferry was now moored on the Thames close to the old Siemens buildings in Woolwich until I stumbled upon it whilst visiting the Open Studios at Second Floor Studios and Arts (SFSA). I can understand why there is a campaign in Liverpool to restore and return it. The Royal Iris restored will be a fitting companion for the regenerated Albert Docks.

Former Siemens building close to Woolwich Dockyards has not been regenerated as grandly but the use of the building by artists has given it a new purpose. The studios were open to the public last weekend. I was surprised by the diversity, there are artists, crafts people and small commercial enterprises there. Indeed there are over 230 making it one of the largest studio spaces in the UK. The Canteen is a social enterprise arts cafe with great views of the river. It is open to the public Monday-Friday and for Sunday Brunch.

Kim Vousden an illustrator and graphic designer has recently moved into the studios. She is currently restoring her small hand press and she took time to explain about the world wide revival in letterpress printing. In the exhibition area there was a celebration of the work by members of the Thames Barrier Print Studio, which runs until 2nd December. In another studio I came across Miles Campbell who makes clocks completely designed, made and finished by hand. His Regulator No 1 has 250 elements and is accurate to 1 second in 100 days. This is just a couple of the talented people working in the studios.

Woolwich’s heritage is undervalued and there is a real risk if we do not build upon the past. The Dockyard School for Apprentices was located close to this site. It had a major role in developing Woolwich’s reputation as an important home for engineering which then encouraged firms like Siemens to come into the area. It is a fitting legacy that there is a similar place to help local people develop their talents. In fact I left thinking that this group have the real potential to help the local economy far more than the 80,000 square feet monolith that is being built in the town centre.