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Announcing the Spirit of Skylark Centre

The Skylark IX Recovery Trust announced ambitious plans to secure a bright future for the much-loved Skylark IX ‘Dunkirk Little Ship’ at the heart of a new immersive heritage experience and boatbuilding training centre in Dumbarton today (Wednesday 26 May).

The proposed £3m Spirit of Skylark Centre will ensure a permanent home for Skylark IX, which is listed on the National Historic Ships Register and believed to be one of only two ‘Dunkirk Little Ships’ from the World War 2 Operation Dynamo surviving in Scotland.

The Little Ship was rescued and is currently being restored by a specialist boatbuilding team working with people recovering from drug addiction and social isolation thanks to funding from The National Lottery Heritage Fund. The new Centre will enable the Trust to help a far greater number of people across West Dunbartonshire through boatbuilding, heritage and arts programmes inspired by Skylark and her story.

The Spirit of Skylark Centre, which will sit in the grounds of the Scottish Maritime Museum (Denny Tank) on Castle Street, will also add a dynamic new dimension to Dumbarton’s rich heritage and, it is hoped, link into the regeneration of Dumbarton waterfront and town centre.

The Skylark IX Recovery Trust, a collaboration between West Dunbartonshire’s Alternatives Drug Recovery Service, The Vale of Leven Remembrance Association and Leven Cruising Club, with support from the Scottish Maritime Museum, revealed plans for the Spirit of Skylark Centre during the 81st Anniversary of Dunkirk.

Skylark IX, which was built as a pleasure boat in 1934 as Britain’s new seaside resorts grew in popularity, will sit at the heart of the new Spirit of Skylark Centre. An immersive sound and vision experience will bring visitors right into the heart of the story of Operation Dynamo and take them ‘doon the watter’, celebrating the enduring appeal of pleasure boating as epitomised by the famous call ‘All Aboard the Skylark!’.

At the Spirit of Skylark Centre Boatbuilding Shed, which will have access to Dumbarton’s waterfront, Alternatives clients and community members will learn traditional wooden boatbuilding skills as they construct 22 foot St Ayles skiffs.

Working with boatbuilding experts at Archipelago Folkschool, the Trust hopes to develop apprenticeships so trainees can gain qualifications to aid employability.

The Trust also hopes to build on the skiff building to revitalise Dumbarton’s strong coastal rowing tradition which faded in the late 1920s.

As well as a café, community space and courtyard, the new Spirit of Skylark Centre will include a space for Remembrance and reflection. A second Remembrance spot will be located at Sweeney’s Cruise Company in Balloch, where veterans boarded Skylark for Remembrance trips on Loch Lomond for thirty years.

The new Spirit of Skylark Centre will also reflect Dumbarton’s wider maritime, industrial and social history also on show at the neighbouring Scottish Maritime Museum, which stands on the site of the former famous and innovative William Denny Shipyard.

Volunteering, leisure and life-long learning opportunities will also include research for higher education; teaching resources, projects and visits for primary and secondary schools; oral history, film and performance projects.

Unveiling the plans, Mary Burch BEM, Chair of the Skylark IX Recovery Trust, says:

“In her lifetime, Skylark has been battered by wartime service, storms and at least two sinkings. Although, following an in-depth condition survey and advice from marine surveyors and maritime heritage experts, we have had to sadly accept that she will never sail again, we have taken some of her indomitable spirit to go well beyond our original vision.

“With our proposed Spirit of Skylark Centre, we will preserve Skylark IX in the most historically authentic and dignified way and help more people make positive and even transformative change to their lives and community. We will ensure that Skylark remains in our community as a significant reminder of the history of Dunkirk and the Little Ships, as a tool for education, employment and inclusivity and as a landmark that will merge with the future plans of Dumbarton and bring visitors to see what hope and resilience can achieve.

“We are so grateful to the National Lottery Heritage Fund and all the veterans, local community groups and passionate individuals who have steadfastly supported Skylark IX over the past decade and enabled us to embark on this hugely exciting new chapter in her life.”

The Spirit of Skylark Centre has been developed in collaboration with the Scottish Maritime Museum, which is home to Scotland’s national maritime heritage collection with sites at Dumbarton and Irvine, Ayrshire.

David Mann, Director of the Scottish Maritime Museum, adds:

“We are delighted to collaborate with the Skylark IX Recovery Trust on the proposed Spirit of Skylark Centre. The William Denny Shipyard, which stood on this spot, was possibly the most prolific shipbuilder in its day, building a staggering 1,500 vessels before closing in 1963. The new Spirit of Skylark Centre will play an important role in helping us tell the rich story of Dumbarton’s maritime heritage. It will also play a part in keeping our wooden boatbuilding skills alive, providing positive opportunities for people across West Dunbartonshire and attracting new visitors to the area.”

West Dunbartonshire Council Leader, Councillor Jonathan McColl, says:

“This is a fantastic initiative which not only benefits residents who are recovering from addiction by offering them the opportunity to learn lifelong skills, but also contributes to the ongoing regeneration of the Dumbarton Waterfront and encourages increased footfall in the area by providing another heritage attraction for visitors. I am pleased that such an important piece of history – the Skylark IX – will have a permanent home in West Dunbartonshire and allow us to share the story of Dunkirk for many years to come.”

Hugh Spencer, Chairman of The Remembrance Association, concludes:

“The Remembrance Association has been involved with Skylark from even before she was raised from the riverbed. We wholeheartedly back the future plans and look forward to seeing Skylark in Dumbarton. On a personal note, I am full of admiration for those who have stuck with the project over many years and given their time and energy to rescuing such a unique boat.”

The Skylark IX Recovery Trust plans to begin fundraising in early 2022 and hopes to start construction of the Spirit of Skylark Centre in 2025.

In 2018, the National Lottery Heritage Fund awarded the Skylark IX Recovery Trust a grant of £404,000 for activity up to the end of 2021, specifically preserving Skylark and delivering skills training for Alternatives clients recovering from addiction and members of the local communities of Dumbarton and West Dunbartonshire.

The Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust has also given support.

Skylark IX Recovery Trust projects to date include skiff training workshops in a temporary workshop at the Scottish Maritime Museum in Dumbarton and skiff model making programmes led by Zoom during Lockdown; a community Lockdown Patchwork Quilt created by 47 volunteers; and online events during the 80th Anniversary of Dunkirk.

LDN Architects produced the initial concept designs for the Spirit of Skylark Centre, taking inspiration from traditional Scottish boat sheds and responding to the long low roofs and architecture of the Scottish Maritime Museum’s Denny Tank, the world’s oldest surviving hull experiment tank.

Skylark IX is currently under the care of the Scottish Maritime Museum’s Scottish Boat Building School in Irvine, Ayrshire.

Photo shows: Hugh Spencer, Chairman of The Remembrance Association; Mary Burch, Chair of the Skylark IX Recovery Trust; and James Currie from Alternatives Drug Recovery Service

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