SS Robin to reopen to public in time for the London 2012 Olympics

By Culture24 Reporter | 01 February 2012
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A photo of a large ship on a sea
The SS Robin will become a London landmark
© Ambrose Greenway
The world's oldest complete steamship, the National Historic Ship SS Robin, will reopen to the public as a landmark to rival its neighbours the Cutty Sark and HMS Belfast in time for the London Olympics.

The coastal cargo steamer, built at the end of the 19th century as one of 1,500 made at the renowned Thames Ironworks & Shipbuilding Company on the River Lea, will receive the "final touches" to its purpose-built pontoon on the Royal Victoria Docks, where it returned in 2011 following three years of restoration works.

Heritage Lottery Fund money of £1 million will create a visitor centre within the towering vessel, hosting activities, events, training and volunteering opportunities.

"Securing HLF funding was absolutely critical for the Trust," admitted Nishani Kampfner, the Co-Founder of the SS Robin Trust, who said the ship would enjoy an "evolved role of heritage site and training centre."

"It will be used to create an authentic and memorable experience for visitors which will include exploring and opening up the hidden and fascinating stories of London's shipping and seafaring roots onboard.

"The HLF award is a wonderful recognition of the importance of this country’s Merchant Navy, and the contributions made by the capital's tough, inventive and adaptable seafarers, past, present and future."

Alongside the Sark and the Belfast, the Robin forms the Core Collection of National Historic Ships. It will be visible from the ExCel Exhibition Centre, which is hosting several events during the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and is also seen as an important part of the surrounding area.

"East London is the future of this great capital and this magnificent ship is a symbol of the Docks' powerful resurgence," said Newham Mayor Sir Robin Wales, calling the award "fantastic".

"For centuries, the East End has been one of the poorest areas in Europe.

"The Games have provided a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform the lives of residents for generations to come.

"The Docks represent a crucial part of the borough's physical and social regeneration as we approach London 2012.

"The regeneration here in Newham will provide our residents with a living environment of which they can be proud."

Visitors will be able to delve through an archive and collection of 4,000 items, including maps, plans and navigation tools on public display for the first time.

The engine room and crew accommodation will be conserved, and dedicated "workstations", video diary booths and research spaces will be offered to learners.