Southampton's heritage steamship, SS Shieldhall, has received a Resilience Grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund totaling £85,000.
By funding professional help, this will assist its dedicated band of volunteers to explore new revenue streams and ensure the structure of the organisation (Shieldhall is managed by the charity Solent Steam Packet Limited) is best placed to take advantage of future opportunities.
Shieldhall’s standing in maritime circles is high – she is currently ranked No 1 Thing to Do on TripAdvisor in Southampton, and in November 2018 was listed as No 5 Attraction in the Country after research conducted by Premier Inn. The project will commence this summer and will conclude at the end of December 2020.
Utilising the skills and experience of professionals to critically examine Shieldhall’s current mode of operation and governance, the project will determine if the skills contained within the society’s volunteers are best placed to enable her success story to continue. There will also be an element of training for the ship’s volunteers to increase the capacity to fundraise and ensure that Shieldhall continues to sail and to provide a steamship experience into the future. Education is also reflected, with local school’s participation amongst the initiatives that will derive from the project.
The goal is to keep Shieldhall operational for a good number of years yet to provide a satisfying challenge for future volunteers, to give first hand educational opportunities for young people and also, to allow the population at large to experience and enjoy a voyage from the age of steam.
Shieldhall was built on the Clyde in 1955 to a classic pre-WW2 design. She had a long first career with Glasgow Corporation – year-round, carrying treated sludge out to sea and, in the summer, taking passengers “doon the watter” on pleasure trips. No, not very glamorous, but she did it well! The steam boilers and engines on Shieldhall are all operational and provide a first-hand experience of the technology that eclipsed the age of sail in the late 1800s/early 1900s and remained the machinery of choice for nearly 100 years.
She was bought by Southern Water in 1977, then finally withdrawn from commercial service in 1985 – bound for the breaker’s yard.
But, thanks to staff of Southampton City Council and the Southampton University Industrial Archaeology group, she was saved and bought for £20,000 in 1988, by the charity that still operates her today.
Assisted by a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £1.48 million in 2013, work to the ship’s hull means Shieldhall should be structurally seaworthy for another 25 years. Shieldhall has grown her visitor numbers to over 3,000 in recent years, and stages sell-out Youth Heritage Training Days on board during her sailing season. However, challenges remain to be overcome such as new measures introduced by new legislation and her current out-of-season berthing location, which precludes the use of Shieldhall by 3rd parties.