Lowestoft centre expands to restore heritage vessels

Over four decades it has trained successive generations of boat-builders and its graduates have found work in every corner of the country and even abroad.

Now the International Boatbuilding Training College (IBTC) in Oulton Broad, Lowestoft, is embarking on an ambitious expansion plan to cash in on the growing interest in heritage vessels.

In a joint venture with the locally run MTB 102 Trust, the Sea Lake Road college has taken over neighbouring Newson's boatyard.

Nat Wilson, 51, principal of IBTC since December 2005, said that as well as being the maintenance base for the historic motor torpedo boat which had played a vital role in the wartime evacuation from Dunkirk, the heritage yard would also now be able to restore and repair other vessels in the Dunkirk Little Ships Association.

Working hand-in-hand with the nearby Excelsior yard - home to the last sailing Lowestoft fishing smack - the partnership would also be able to take on a wide range of other restoration projects as well as new construction.

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Mr Wilson, who previously ran a yard in Scotland building traditional boats, said: 'Working together as the Lowestoft Marine Heritage Group, we will be able to offer not only 2,300sq m of shed space with a skilled workforce of 14 full-time workers, but also sawmill facilities, travel hoists, access to a 20-ton crane, 100-ton and 200-ton slipways and the ability to work on boats of up to 100ft under cover.

'This is a really exciting development which should lead to Lowestoft being recognised as the place to go on the East Coast if you own a classic boat needing help, or to commission a new classic.'

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Richard Basey, a spokesman for the 102 Trust and commodore of the Dunkirk Little Ships Association, said: 'This is the culmination of several years of effort to secure the future of MTB102 and the other boats in the trust's care and to provide a centre of excellence for the repair and maintenance of traditional craft.

'A link between MTB 102 Trust, IBTC and the Excelsior Trust can only be good for the future of traditional boatbuilding skills and for the future of Lowestoft.'

The first boat to christen the new facility is the 75ft Thames river cruiser SL Bell, arriving from Hull for a refurbishment ahead of a new life running river trips in York.

Another boat already booked in for an Easter restoration is a 1960s-built former Oakley Class lifeboat based in London.

Mr Wilson said that by boosting the commercial side of the IBTC he hopes to be able to offer more job opportunities to the 40 students who graduate each year and his long-term goal is to increase the annual intake of students who come to Lowestoft from all over the country and beyond.

'We have three intakes a year and they range in age from school-leavers to one student we have at the moment in his 70s,' he said.

The students graduate with a City and Guilds level 3 certificate recognised by employers as a good foundation.

Mr Wilson said: 'We concentrate primarily on wooden boats and have 30 vessels of different sizes and different stages of construction being worked on.'

Commercial jobs currently being worked on include the construction of a six-berth yacht for a French customer and a five-berth yacht for a London wine merchant. The restoration of the Jacqueline Ann, a Broads wooden motor cruiser, is also being undertaken.

(A fuller version of this story in this edition of Anglia Afloat.)

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