On this day, 16th September 1890, a 350 ton coastal steamer was launched from the Thames Ironworks shipyard in London – she was called the Robin.
125 years later the SS Robin sits on a pontoon in London’s Royal Docks within sight of the place where she was built and close to the river Thames where she once plied her trade.
Sadly on this anniversary there is no bunting, no crowds of friends and well-wishers and certainly no cake – in fact, no sense of celebration at all.
You might wonder “so what?” – well, the SS Robin is the oldest complete steam coaster in existence and the last of her type in the world but her future is far from certain.
Part of the reason why this is not a happy birthday for the SS Robin is that a bid for funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) which would have enabled her to be fully restored and opened to the public as a museum ship was unsuccessful. There is no criticism of the HLF as they have finite resources and many deserving causes and on this occasion the numbers just didn’t add up in the bid submitted by the SS Robin Trust.
The SS Robin was in the extremely fortunate position of having salaried staff and a permanent office base (as opposed to so many other heritage ships that survive on part-time, volunteer only, basis) but she never really achieved a high enough profile to successfully attract support. It is a shame the Trust didn’t like using social media as that might have helped a bit!
The SS Robin Trust states that it remains committed to securing the future of the SS Robin but something needs to change in the ship’s fortunes and quickly as she has already been in the Royal Docks for four years and is no closer to being a self-sustaining heritage attraction than she was when she arrived.
There has been no communication from the Trust since the funding announcement and the future looks uncertain as there was no Plan B – to have any chance of a sustainable future the SS Robin needs to capture and hold the public interest – even if things are happening behind the scenes there needs to be better engagement with the public.
Here’s hoping that on a future birthday anniversary the SS Robin has something to celebrate!!