Ironworks set for endurance row

West Ham United's move to the Olympic Stadium is a move back home. Just ask the Thames Ironworks Heritage Trust.

Steeped in West Ham's shipbuilding beginnings, founder, chairman and lifelong Hammer Gavin Redknap has grand plans, culminating in Ironworks lifeboats taking to the River Lea as they did a century ago.

Launched in December, the Trust has intervened in the nick of time, with two of the last remaining Ironworks boats already back in West Ham hands. Once restored and water worthy, the Trust's boats could yet ferry supporters to and from the Olympic Stadium on matchday, rightly restoring the Ironworks to West Ham's here and now.

"It's a new start for the Club, but it's also a reminder that when we do bring these boats back, it's actually a move back home, in many ways, to where the Thames Ironworks originally were, on the banks of the River Lea," Redknap told West Ham TV.

"This is the last opportunity to save the history of the Ironworks and to restore some of the boats they made. We're talking about 100 years since something like this has been attempted in east London itself, so it's really important that we bring this back and place that stamp on the area.

"The drive has always come from West Ham fans, all the trustees are West Ham fans. It's really important that West Ham fans continue to support this, because first and foremost it's about our heritage."

Gavin Redknap TIHT

Redknap aboard the John Ryburn, the second of the Ironworks fleet

Patrick O'Connor is one such supporter itching to play his part and hopes to give the fundraising drive a considerable boost with an ambitious endurance row. Three five-man gigs will set off from Southend Pier on Saturday 2 August, embarking on a 38-mile journey taking them as close to the Olympic Stadium as possible.

While a row along the Thames may be an appealing exploit in itself, O'Connor maintains his motivations are very much West Ham driven.

"It's all about West Ham. It goes from the crossed hammers on the badge to the 'Up the Hammers' and 'Come on you Irons,' you just can't get away from it. West Ham are Thames Ironworks and vice versa. It will always be that way. It's great to somehow bring a bit of living history to the new Stadium.

"We heard about the project - we're West Ham through and through - and thought we've got to get involved, it's just too big an opportunity. I've got a reputation for coming up with stupid ideas, so let's get in a boat to the Olympic Stadium and, basically, that's it!

"It's going to be a hard slog, but it's for a great cause. I'm looking forward to the day, but I'm also really looking forward to seeing these boats finished, moored up at the Stadium and being able to brag to the grandkids saying we were part of that.

"The Ironworks lifeboats will be back on the water and I just think it's phenomenal. To be able to walk up to the best football ground in the country, as it will be, brand spanking new, and say 'here's our history,' it's here, it's around us. It's going to be great to have the old and the new together. It will be fantastic."

As part of reconciling the old with the new, the Trust plans to initially recruit half-a-dozen apprentices to restore the boats to their former glories. Redknap knows the process is likely to be a lengthy one, but one that merits both time and investment.

"We think that it's worth it because we're going to be employing a load of young people, getting them apprentice work and eventually giving them life-skills.

"We're looking to get six apprentices working on the boats themselves, though over time that will probably increase. When it comes to the service side of things, we're going to be giving kids jobs, teaching them how to master boats, teaching them how to give guided tours of the Olympic Park and so we are talking about eventually employing dozens of youngsters."

Such is the support behind the cause that rower O'Connor has had no trouble recruiting fellow oarsmen, admitting the West Ham fleet might have been bigger but for logistics. And however tough the task ahead is, the Trust's fundraiser-in-chief admits it bears little comparison to that which the original Ironworks lifeboat crews faced.

He added: "To be fair, when these lifeboats were first built, they were rowed in rough weather. They didn't go out for pleasure cruises. They were taken out in stormy seas to rescue sinking ships and those fellows rowed them. I think I'm a quite tasty rower but these guys, they were different gravy."

O'Connor, meanwhile, is banking on people's generosity of spirit to drive the Trust forward in the coming months, confident that his endurance row can spark interest, as well as donations.

"This row is not going to raise enough money to restore these on its own. But it's not just about raising funds, it's about raising awareness. We know we're onto something special here and I'm sure the more people that know about it, the more will want to get involved. If people want to help, contact the Trust, but also spread the word, tell people what it's all about."

You can follow the Thames Ironworks Heritage Trust on Facebook here, or visit the mydonate page for August's endurance row.