The River Thames Boat Project has returned to Hermitage Community Moorings twice this year so far: once in March, with St Peter’s London Docks school, pictured, and later in May with two schools from further afield: Grafton school from Barking and Dagenham and Stebon school from Tower Hamlets. The charity owns and operates the community barge Thames Venturer, which has visited Hermitage in the past. However, the vessel is in its last season on the tidal Thames, due to forthcoming licensing restrictions. This, together with the logistical challenges of bringing her downstream for a short visit, means that we are developing our schools programme independently of the vessel and instead making ample educational use of the beautiful live-aboard barges moored at Hermitage, which children have greatly enjoyed viewing and learning from. Children interviewed one or two residents, who were respectfully grilled about their sustainable lifestyles on board their boats. Mostly the children were amazed that people make their homes aboard such unusual vessels.

Children also measured the nitrates and phosphates in the Thames and found alarmingly high levels of nitrates. These are washed down from agricultural areas where their presence in fertilizers are part of agricultural practice outside London, but they can cause permanent changes to the river’s eco-system long term. Much of the Thames’ biochemistry is still a mystery, but suffice to say that for water near the mouth of a river with a large number of tributaries that flows through several cities, not least the capital, the largest city in Europe, it’s still considered to be one of the cleanest urban rivers in the world, by the Environment Agency at least.

London, like many capital cities, is a frenetic hub of activity, – commercial, financial, artistic, cultural – but Hermitage Community Moorings manages to be a tranquil “oasis” in the middle of it all, floating on the historic artery of the city, and offering a quality learning environment to local children, all of whom have richly enjoyed the experience.