Ambitious project to save 19th century barge and create floating Ramsgate arts centre

Ramsgate Arts Barge wants to convert this vessel Photo Ben Mann/The Liquid Highway

A bid to save a 120-year-old Dutch cargo barge and bring it to Ramsgate has been launched by a community group.

The Ramsgate Arts Barge group has been set up to save and restore the Vreindschap (Friendship), a 50m by 7m 19th century vessel.

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

Ramsgate Arts Barge wants to take on the project and convert the vessel to an arts centre. The initiative is being captained by Zuza Czarniavska, an isle artist who, prior to moving to Ramsgate, lived and worked on a barge for seven years continuously cruising the rivers Lea and Stort.

After starting a family and a new life as a land-lubber in Ramsgate, she’s now keen to invite the local creative community to jump on board the project and fall in love with barging too!

She is supported by Helen Pipins and Gemma Dempsey. Helen is an experienced journalist known locally for her role as editor of the Ramsgate Recorder. Gemma is a radio producer involved with several Thanet initiatives, such as Screaming Alley and the Festival of Sound.

The Barge is owned by Paul Powlesland, a London barrister and environmental /social activist, who lives on board his narrowboat on the River Roding.

Towed for the second time Photo to Andrew Christy – with thanks to The Liquid Highway

He had hoped to create a community space on the barge and moor it at Barking Creek but was ordered by the PLA in January to move the vessel. The PLA then towed it away to the Royal Docks. It was again towed yesterday (April 26) by the craft Plashy and put onto a mooring buoy outside West India Dock on the Thames. It is up for sale for £20,000.

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

A statement from the group says: “Our initiative aims to save and restore this 19th century barge, so she can become a thriving community-centric creative development hub. Onboard we will be offering workshops, talks, exhibitions, performances, film screenings, radio output and much more, including constant skill-exchange opportunities with the resident artists.

“The long-term sustainability of this project is evident. Although it will be initially funded from grants and fundraising initiatives, we aim to become self-sufficient once the art studios are occupied, event calendar fulfilled and the barge is fully restored.

“We will be minimising our carbon footprint by generating electricity from solar and wind power, which will additionally contribute to the reduction of running costs.”

Ramsgate Arts Barge hope the vessel can be centre stage for celebrations marking Ramsgate’s 200th anniversary of royal harbour status in 2021.

The group is submitting a bid to Thanet District Council to secure permeant mooring along the Harbour Parade at the Ramsgate Royal Harbour.

A website is due to be launched on Wednesday. Search


  1. I think Barking is very wise – have you any idea of the costs involved in conserving an old barge on a long-term basis, and making it safe to be used as an arts centre? It is also difficult to keep the initial flush of enthusiasm going once the people who launch this type of project lose interest and move onto something else, or become unable to continue with it. It’s difficult to get funding and also support from local authorities
    in the current funding crisis.

    • This is a life long project. I’m sure those involved are aware and are happy to involve others in a way that keeps it vibrant and worth while.

  2. Let’s see how TDC manage to scupper this one, as they do whenever someone comes up with a good idea for Ramsgate. I’m guessing they’ll claim there’s no room in the harbour. Failing that, the old favourite, “Health and Safety,” should put the mockers on it.

  3. Well, I’m not going to be a party pooper. Good luck with the venture. I’m not arty but I’d like to see anything like this bring a bit of life and variety to the town. I’m certain there will be challenges but as said, I wish it fair weather.

  4. For an indication of what’s involved in looking after old vessels, just look at what happened to the steam tug Cervia a few months ago. (A large hole appeared in the side, sea rushed in, and it nearly sunk).
    I think it’s a great idea, but it will cost a huge amount of money not just to repair it and bring it up to scratch, but to maintain it over the years to come. It is quite a large vessel: whereabouts would it be moored?

  5. It’s a nice idea but I’m not sure it’s the most attractive of vessels to be moored in Ramsgate harbour. For all the work and cost that it would require, would it not be better to use one of the many empty shops or buildings in the high street instead?

  6. Isn’t this the ferry that Seabourne Freight said they would use to get government money for? To try to cope with the hold-ups caused by all the new red-tape that Brexit will bring.

    There is an obvious way to get money. Seeing as Eurostar sued the government for loss of income and got millions, and , now, P&O are going to sue the government because they gave Eurostar so much cash, why not also sue the government and get loadsamoney for the barge!? We could insist that the barge was a really viable cross-channel ferry and that it was only rejected because the government didn’t want to look foolish for pursuing the Brexit adventure( a bit late for that, I know).
    It is obvious that there are millions of pounds available to try to get Brexit off the ground, so why not grab some of it for a good cause before it all goes wrong?

    I actually think a barge-based arts centre is a brilliant idea for Ramsgate. In more sensible days, we could have applied for an EU grant to get it up and running. But we are no longer living in a sensible country.

  7. Can you ring me on 07747026292

    I have the funds to buy the barge if you are able to negotiate a mooring

    • We don’t send anything like that amount to the EU. Margaret Thatcher, a great supporter of EU membership, negotiated a reduction well below that figure, then Tony Blair, another supporter of EU membership, negotiated yet another reduction off that amount.After we have paid for the problems caused by Brexit, that poor old barge could be our Navy!

  8. I stand corrected. The actual figure for our contribution is £250 million per week (£13 billion per year). That’s the figure for 2017. In that year the EU spent £4 billion on us. This means our nett contribution was £9 billion (£173 million per week). So, if we left the EU we could increase defence spending by 25%. We wouldn’t need the barge.

    • The EU is like a club. If you want to trade without restriction, you have to pay a yearly subscription. It gets us favourable treatment, especially helping to avoid tariffs and other restrictions on trade. Not to mention a lot less red-tape etc at ports, as we all have the same customs arrangements. And we have negotiated beneficial trading arrangements with a host of other economies around the world. Well worth the cost of the subscription. If we end up leaving the EU, the extra red-tape at Dover will lead to such delays that the poor old barge might come in useful to just get around east Kent by avoiding the roads.

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