A crowdfunder campaign has been launched this week to help raise cash to turn a 130-year-old Dutch barge in Ramsgate harbour into a waterfront community arts hub.

The aim is to create an arts and performance space, with theatre, films, exhibitions, workshops and more, aboard the Vriendschap (Friendship) barge by September 2021 – in time for Ramsgate’s 200th year celebrations of being the UK’s sole Royal Harbour, granted by King George IV in 1821.

The social-enterprise ‘not-for-profit’ Ramsgate Arts Barge community project is headed up by directors and town residents Kevin O’Connor and Natasha De Samarkandi.

Ramsgate architects Del Renzio & Del Renzio is providing concept design assistance for the renovation and refurbishment.

Kevin said: “In a challenging time, the project aims to create some much-needed good news, unite the community and create an incredible arts space in the heart of Ramsgate. Over 100 volunteers have already registered to get involved with the project.

“This will create Ramsgate’s first large multi-faceted arts events and performance space, hosting a year-round diverse offering of arts events including visual arts, exhibitions, comedy, theatre, art installations, acoustic music, cabaret, film screenings, spoken word, poetry, debates, talks and community events. In addition, a wide range of child and adult art courses, classes and workshops will be available throughout the whole year.”

Kevin and Natasha say the aims are to create new jobs and boost the local economy  by attracting day trippers and overnight tourism to Ramsgate year-round.

There will also be free access to the arts for all Thanet schoolchildren through workshops and programmes, ten hours per week of free community studio hire for schools, colleges, charities, not-for-profits, performing arts groups and all societies with a social aim and objective operating across Ramsgate, Thanet and Kent.

Profits will be reinvested in the Ramsgate Arts Barge  for local community initiatives.

The vessel was built and operated by the Van der Veen family of Amsterdam until 1994. In September 1998 Vriendschap left Holland for England.

The craft had been denied mooring in Barking, where the plan was to convert her into a community centre, and faced the possibility of being scrapped by the Port of London Authority (PLA).

Ramsgate Arts Barge project was captained by Zuza Czarniavska, an isle artist, with residents Helen Pipins and Gemma Dempsey.

It was taken over by Kevin and Natasha in March and brought under the legal ownership of Ramsgate Arts Barge CIC in August.

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