Skylark lX Recovery Trust
'The little ship with a big heart'
Skylark IX and the Spirit of Skylark Centre
The following is background information on the ‘Dunkirk Little Ship’ Skylark IX and the exciting plans to both secure a bright future for her and help more people recovering from drug addiction or facing social isolation across West Dunbartonshire.
Skylark IX - History in Brief
- Skylark IX was built as a pleasure boat in Bournemouth in 1934 as Britain’s new seaside resorts grew in popularity. An open vessel, she stretched over 50 foot and carried 115 passengers.
- Skylark IX became one of the famed ‘Dunkirk Little Ships’ in May 1940 when she served during Operation Dynamo, the ten day mission to save 338,000 Allied soldiers from Dunkirk. Afterwards, she continued her wartime service as a barrage balloon vessel in Poole Harbour.
- Postwar, Skylark IX was probably one of the first seaside pleasure craft to resume cruises, returning to Bournemouth then working for five further owners, at Margate, Morecambe, Portobello, Burntisland and, finally, Loch Lomond. Here she spent the longest period of her working life and became a symbol of Remembrance for thirty years when, discovering her wartime history, owners, Sweeney’s Cruise Company, began taking veterans out on the water for Remembrance Day services.
- In 2010, two days after the 70th Anniversary of Dunkirk, Skylark’s hull was pierced in a collision and she sank at her moorings on the River Leven near the mouth to Loch Lomond. Local veterans and community groups rallied to save her and, finally, after two years deteriorating half submerged in the water, Skylark was re-floated.
- In 2013, The Vale of Leven Remembrance Day Association, Leven Cruising Club and West Dunbartonshire’s Alternatives Drug Recovery Service came together to ensure a future for Skylark and her story by forming the Skylark IX Recovery Trust.
- 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 also gave 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.
- Skylark IX is currently under the care of the Scottish Maritime Museum’s Scottish Boat Building School in Irvine, Ayrshire.
Skylark IX – The Future – The Spirit of Skylark Centre
The Skylark IX Recovery Trust will soon seek funding for the ‘Spirit of Skylark Centre’, an exciting new immersive heritage experience and boatbuilding training centre in the grounds of the Scottish Maritime Museum (Denny Tank) in Dumbarton.
The proposed £3m Spirit of Skylark Centre, which has been developed in collaboration with the Scottish Maritime Museum, 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.
Skylark IX will sit at the heart of the 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!’.
The Spirit of Skylark Centre will also feature:
- a Boatbuilding Shed, where clients of Alternatives Drug Recovery Service 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 also hopes to develop apprenticeships so trainees can gain qualifications to aid employability
- a café, community space and courtyard
- a Remembrance space and a second spot for reflection located at Sweeney’s Cruise Company in Balloch, where veterans boarded Skylark for Remembrance trips on Loch Lomond for thirty years
As well as creating a bright future for Skylark IX, the Spirit of Skylark Centre will also:
- 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
- add a dynamic new dimension to Dumbarton’s rich heritage and, it is hoped, link into the regeneration of Dumbarton waterfront and town centre
- allow the Trust to build on the skiff building to revitalise Dumbarton’s strong coastal rowing tradition which faded in the late 1920s
- 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
- enable the Trust to develop further volunteering, leisure and life-long learning opportunities including research for higher education; teaching resources, projects and visits for primary and secondary schools; oral history, film and performance projects
Fundraising will begin in early 2022 and construction of the Spirit of Skylark Centre will, it is hoped, begin in 2025.
The Skylark IX Recovery Trust is 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.
Although, following an in-depth condition survey and advice from marine surveyors and maritime heritage experts, the Trust has had to sadly accept that she will never sail again, it has taken some of her indomitable spirit to go well beyond its original vision with the
opportunities it will be able to create with the Spirit of Skylark Centre.
The Trust 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. It 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.
More information on Skylark IX and our story can be found at www.skylarkix.co.uk