Brighton floats a curious project

September 1, 2000

Brighton University launched its latest research project last month, quite literally, as The Skylark - the last wooden fishing boat to be built locally - took to the waves for the first time in 30 years.

The restored 1970s trawler has scrubbed up as a 12-seater pleasure boat and makes a welcome addition to the Brighton Fishing Museum and Quarter Project, according to Andy Durr, a principal history lecturer at Brighton University, who also doubles as the mayor of Brighton and Hove.

"The fishing museum initiative fell within two planks of university policy: its commitment to work with the community and a long interest in local history - not least the notion of a local history centre. The restoration of The Skylark is just one of these ventures," Mr Durr said.

Occupying a number of arches along Brighton's famous seafront, the Fishing Quarter is already a success. As well as the museum and its shop, the project supports a smokery, a shellfish kiosk, a marine engineering workshop and a lecture theatre. Fishermen can use the facilities to mend their equipment or "to have a cup of tea and a chat when the weather's rough" according to Mr Durr, while students work in the research centre next door.

While the majority of funding comes from the European Regional Development Fund, the university has already invested more than Pounds 32,000 in the project.

"As everything is staffed by the community or voluntary sector, there is less pressure to make a high turnover than there would have been if it had been run by the private sector. It is low scale but that is exactly how those involved want it to be. We have enough 'Kiss-Me-Quick' on the Palace Pier," Mr Durr said.

"The centre has traditional academic outcomes - published articles and a postgraduate research student - but the project is concerned with the retrieval of the past of a working community."

Fine weather will bring The Skylark to the beach - Pounds 6,000 has been invested in a winching system to haul boats safely out of the water when not in use - and it is hoped that the prospect of a pleasure cruise around the bay will prompt visitors to take a greater interest in local history.

Fiercely proud of the initiative's progress, Mr Durr said: "It is a strange research centre but is has created jobs, has regenerated the seafront and has got the university well and truly involved with the community."

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