Meet the team transforming a North Devon district’s economy


Since being served notice to vacate her berth on the River Severn, the last small potentially sea-going, coastal steamer in the UK, the SS Freshspring, is in dire need of support to avoid her being scrapped. A dedicated team are working on raising funds to ensure the ship can be taken to Bideford, North Devon where there is huge support for her. Once in Bideford, Steamship Freshspring Society aims to utilise the ship to provide the area with a host of activities that will compliment maritime heritage, education and the regeneration of the region.

Work is underway to make the 120ft ex-Royal Fleet Auxiliary tanker towable for the voyage to her new home. The long term restoration and maintenance of the vessel will be undertaken by local engineers, volunteers and apprentices with the aim of returning her to steam, and transforming her into a sea-going cultural experience, providing education, creating jobs and much needed training for Britain’s future engineers and maritime workforce.

There’s a tendency to think of Britain’s shipping industry as solely a historical one but in fact, the industry is thriving. 95% of goods are imported and exported by sea; generating some £56 billion of UK GDP, with the UK sea trade economy expected to double over the next 20 years, representing a significant employment opportunity for young people and yet the industry faces a severe skills shortage in the coming years.

The Steamship Freshspring Society is the charity that is overseeing fund-raising and restoration of the ship, and the aim of the Society is that by 2020 the SS Freshspring will be a nationally recognised attraction and asset, engaging 120,000 people a year through a combination of work, education and tourism.

John Puddy, Society Chairman states: “SS Freshspring is a unique and hugely valuable steamship. She represents the numerous small coasting steamers, which served the nation for over a century and is now the only one left with the potential to go to sea. She is recognised as a national treasure in the same way as ships like SS Great Britain or HMS Warrior. The Steamship Freshspring Society is an education Trust that owns SS Freshspring, which will be a major element in providing inspiration and education to help young people enter the maritime sector, becoming engineers and seafarers of the future.”

Cities like Liverpool, Bristol, Newcastle and Cardiff have all benefited from the revitalisation of their ports. The aim is that SS Freshspring will serve as a catalyst for the same regeneration of a cultural hub in a pocket of North Devon that’s rich in natural beauty but short on opportunities for young people.

A Gala Dinner is taking place on the 23rd of April at the Royal Hotel, Bideford to help raise the remainder of the £150,000 needed to ensure SS Freshspring is shipshape and seaworthy for her voyage to North Devon before her current berth expires on the 1st of July. If you would like to join us for what promises to be a special evening, please contact us to let us know of your interest and we would be pleased to see you at our dinner to help save a unique piece of British history.

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