Hundreds of Blyth children are taking part in a project inspired by an historic voyage which, 200 years later, is bringing new hope to the town.
For the first time eight of the town’s primary schools have joined together to offer the 350 pupils in Year 6, their final year, a unique experience as they prepare for life in their new schools and beyond.
As Blyth prepares to stage the Tall Ships Regatta in August, the children are learning about the town’s nautical history and future, taking part in challenges to see how they can apply their knowledge of science, technology engineering and maths, and discovering the range of jobs the town’s port has to offer.
The project is a result of a partnership between the Blyth Tall Ship project, Port Training Services and teachers and leaders across all schools. It has been supported by The Rotary Club, Blyth, The Blyth Academy and Newcastle University.
Alison Nicholson, head teacher of Malvin’s Close Primary Academy, said: “This is such an exciting time for Blyth that we all wanted to make sure the children didn’t miss out. This project aims to raise their aspirations and shows the commitment of all schools who are working together to improve the opportunities and outcomes for our children.”
All pupils are spending a day at the Port of Blyth and the Port Heritage Centre, taking part in activities ranging from learning how to make a boat float to practising a song celebrating a voyage of discovery two centuries ago.
The song – written by the deputy head teacher of Seaton Sluice First School, Amanda Bennett – tells the story of Captain William Smith who built a sailing ship in Blyth which was powerful enough to survive some of the world’s heaviest seas. Even though he died a pauper and was not recognised for his achievements, Captain Smith and his crew on the vessel, called the Williams, were the first to discover the continent of Antarctica.
Although celebrating the past, the Blyth Tall Ship project is also laying foundations for the future. Young people in Blyth – starting with Year 6 pupils – are now learning some of the boatbuilding skills mastered 200 years ago.
Teenagers and young adults are refitting and restoring a vessel similar to the original Williams. It was built in Denmark as a Baltic trader 100 years ago, brought to the UK by Blyth Tall Ship with the help of a Heritage Lottery Fund, and has been transformed into the Williams II.
The experience and engineering training gained working on the ship has already helped secure many apprenticeships and full time jobs with local employers who operate in the local engineering and offshore sectors.
In 2019 – exactly two hundred years since Captain Smith and his crew set sail – the Williams II, crewed by young people from Blyth, will recreate their epic voyage.
Clive Gray, chief executive of Blyth Tall Ship, said: “I am so proud to be involved in a project which is already helping to change lives and will continue to offer opportunities to young people in the town. We are delighted that so many of the town’s Year 6 children are coming to find out what we are doing and let’s hope we see many of them returning in the next few years. We are reviving old skills to help young people acquire new skills.”
He added: “It’s also about time the achievements of Captain Smith and his brave crew are recognised.”
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