Barge Updates


March 2018: We have found our barge builder! Nathan Rumbold of Hirst Boatbuilders in Knottingley will build the steel work on the barge. Selby Tony will be tugged out of Foss Basin on 27th March and reach Knottingley via Goole. Nathan is due to start the steelwork in May. The work will take place over the course of a year, followed by the fit-out, which will also happen in Knottingley. We have most of the funding for the steelwork in place! We will need to fundraise big time to raise the money for the fit-out – and hope to receive donated materials and community helping hands! We aim to bring the barge back to York for opening in April 2020! 

January 2018: The last six months have seen the steelwork structure designs completed and tendered leading to further exploration of the possibility of construction in alternative materials to keep building costs down. 

Our mammoth grant application task has had a positive start to 2018 with a £5,000 grant from Efficiency North Community Investment Fund EN:Able. This grant will go towards installing a sustainable energy system for the Arts Barge. We are looking at the possibility of a water-source heat exchange pump and solar panel combination to make use of the natural resources, promote a cleaner and healthier environment, and lower our bills! There’s a lot to do before we’re ready to install the energy systems though, but this grant will hopefully attract more funders and we have a lot more applications lined up to do. You can help by becoming one of our regular monthly donors from just £4 per month for 12 months. Email us and we’ll get you set up, and you will receive one of our gorgeous limited edition prints – ‘Helping’ (pictured left).

The barge was visited by several artists in 2017 who have collected information and been inspired to make art of various forms, all of which we’re looking forward to including in our opening exhibition. Italian artist Marinella Senatore combined rusty barge with pristine ballerina as part of ‘York Symphony’ – on exhibition at York Art Gallery until May.The community help project on the building prep work we were hoping to do late last summer wasn’t ready for action, however we are really excited to get going with that when the 2018 weather gets warmer!

July 2017: Detailed Architect’s Drawings are currently being developed by David Spencer, (DSP Architects). This involves input from our Naval Architect and consultation with other experts. It’s getting very exciting to see Selby Tony with her winter cover off and being measured up for the alterations and additions. We are currently running a funding campaign to pay for this work and you can see our short video here. Please buy a raffle ticket to help us reach our target – each donation of £5 in July will secure an entry to our prize draw. Many other fundraising efforts are taking place such as musicians busking and collecting tins in pubs. If you can do us a fundraising activity to help, please do!

August and September will see a community effort to help get Selby Tony prepared for the building work. This will involve rubbing down the inner surfaces and undercoating, and re-instating the original red stripe and shiny black finish to the outside of the hull. If you are skilled with a wire-brush, grinder or paintbrush and want to roll your sleeves up and apply some elbow grease, please get in touch! Artists will record the current state of the barge before any of this work starts, again – if you’re and artist and would like to contribute your time and skills to this, please get in touch.

A new book River Ouse Bargeman by David Lewis details the working life of the BOCM fleet of which Selby Tony was one of 17. Compiled using memories of Laurie Dews, the last remaining skipper of the fleet. Read more here.

February 2017: Planning permission was approved on 16th February. It was a nail-biting and amazing experience to see the Councillors’ difficult debate and thankfully ultimate recognition of the many benefits the project would bring – finally voting 11 / 4 in favour and over-turning the recommended refusal by Planning Officers.

Preparing for the meeting was a long and frustrating process and the result comes as a huge relief after all the work from a dedicated team. We have long been convinced of the community, heritage and city benefits the project will offer – and surprisingly it proved difficult to convey this to some people. David Spencer, of DSP Architects was at the helm on this tumultuous voyage and we cannot thank him enough for his dedication, passion and his unfailing belief that the issues could be overcome – and overcome they were.

All public amenity issues, environment and safety were satisfied early on in the process, but harm to heritage assets was perceived by the City Conservation Architect and due to this it was recommended for refusal. This harm specifically being to the view of the bridge and the ambience of the gardens. The benefits of the project, heritage and otherwise, were not taken into consideration as relevant. We felt that the project offered many heritage benefits which included the historic barge Selby Tony being rescued, renovated and brought back into use as a public heritage arts facility. Selby Tony was originally used in York’s industrial past – and would now be moored back in an appropriate place, opposite the bonding Warehouse, where she and many other similar barges would have waited to unload goods. Also the benefit the Project would bring to Tower Gardens in terms of improving community and cultural use of the space which is currently not used other than as a walk-through area. Another benefit would be that community heritage arts projects would be delivered from the barge and form part of the content on offer for visitors. We could see many benefits.

We needed a second opinion and enlisted the help of Rebecca Burrows at Purcell’s – highly regarded Architects and historic building consultants specialising in conservation and preservation. Rebecca produced an impressive in depth Heritage report by a very short dead-line which highlighted these additional benefits and more. We were very fortunate to meet Bob Sydes, Heritage professional with 30 years experience and ex-consultant to the City Council, who agreed with Purcell’s position and gave his time to study the reports and articulate the validity of Purcell’s findings in the allotted 3 mins to the Planning Committee.

And when at the eleventh hour we were faced with providing proof that we could not deliver our project from a building instead (!!??)  – Jane, Lady Gibson, (Chair of Make It York and Visit York) and her staff, pulled out all the stops to deliver a report in two days – of available City centre buildings and their relative unaffordable costs for an arts-based Social Enterprise venture such as this. Jane Gibson also spoke passionately in support at the meeting.

We also had the support of all three of the Guildhall Ward Counsellors and Denise Craghill, Green Party Councillor for Guildhall Ward spoke at the meeting to highlight the extent of the public good for local residents. Additionally in writing – Rose Kent of Accessible Arts and Media highlighted the benefits of a fully accessible community minded venue, Andy Shrimpton (Cycle Heaven) wrote about ‘place-making’ in regard to the Tower Gardens and how bringing the gardens into cultural use, the Arts Barge team and community would act as custodians of the gardens would likely improve the area, and from Mike Kenny – playwright and our Patron, who emphasised the good that the arts brings and that opportunities like the ones Arts Barge deliver are not plentiful in York.

There was opposition from some local residents who live close to the site, and we will offer them regular opportunities to talk any issues through and to find resolutions with us. We can understand their fears, and hope they will find them unfounded in the fullness of time. This is a community venue for everyone – including them, and we will make sure we do our best to include them. 

We were very disappointed that Dyl’s Cafe owners chose to make strong objection to the application and also to promote a disingenuous campaign of mis-information which acted to instil unfounded fears of ‘Stag and Hen’ culture for local residents including vulnerable older people. Dyl’s Cafe owners know what kind of events we offer, and what kind of audiences they appeal to, having included them in our Riverside Festival for three years as providers of food. We had also had previous discussions with them about how the businesses could work side-by-side and be mutually beneficial, we still believe that they will be.

Thank you to everyone who wrote on the planning portal in support of the application. We are currently waiting for the full details of the planning conditions, and will shortly be applying for a license. We are really excited to embark on the next stage of the journey – fundraising for the full renovation to a fully accessible venue! 

You can see the whole process and how the verdict was reached – here!


September 2016: Our planning application for a permanent mooring next to Tower Gardens is now in. Please support the application by submitting your comments here:

July 2016: We’ve done all the work on the planning application and it’s due to be submitted later this week (w/c 24/6/16). If you want to find out more subscribe to our mailer. And keep your eyes and ears open for a message from us asking you to write in support of us on the planning portal.

June2016: We reached our crowd funder target ahead of time! We now have the funds to prepare a full planning application for permanent mooring space on the River Ouse. These preparations are currently in progress.

March 2016: We agreed a 15 month temporary lease with the council in December last year and Selby Tony arrived in March. Great to have her here. We’re now raising funds via a crowd funder to get the designs done and get planning permission to find her a permanent home in York

October 2015: We’ve recently identified a space in the Foss Basin that the barge could fit into while we do some work to the interior of the hull and put on a roof. We’re awaiting the go-ahead from the council as we speak…Our plan is to have the barge ready to show people onboard (even if it’s not finished) by July 2016.

August 2015: Having just completed a successful Fringe Festival with The Great Yorkshire Fringe we have raised enough money to get our Selby Tony up to York! She’ll go back into dry dock for a final check and touch up (thanks to Hempel Paints for a further donation of marine paint), she will have an assessment by a Naval Architect which will inform the design to safety requirements, and will be brought to York this Autumn. We intend to moor her up temporarily in Foss Basin to undertake the building work which will complete a basic single level venue ready to use in time for Fringe 2016. We are just about to begin another fundraising and community help drive in order to raise the money and in kind support needed for this next stage. We have now received a positive written outcome of our pre-planning application for a mooring development at North Street, however this is a very long term plan as the mooring build is complicated. We have been advised that Tower Gardens is the only other option for mooring a barge the size of Selby Tony, this is a much simpler mooring option and is perfectly placed alongside our Riverside Festival site.

March 2015: we’re still awaiting the written outcome of our pre-planning application. Verbal feedback so far has been very positive and we’re hoping we’ll be able to crack on with the full planning application by May. The decision on that will take 3 months, following which we can start raising funds to convert the main barge (assuming it’s a positive outcome of course). Meanwhile, the barge we used for the pilot project, Room 58, has become available to buy. We’re exploring the possibility of using her to start a small-scale version of the project because she’s ready to use right now. But we’ve still got the same issue around mooring permissions – we’re looking into the possibilities and we’ll keep you posted.

September 2014: Selby Tony is still in Swinton awaiting the outcome of a pre-planning application in York relating to where we’d like to be moored. We’ll let you know the outcome of that as soon as we have it. Exciting times…

January 2014: Press Release here

December 2013: Pics of re-floating Selby Tony after a long spell in the dry dock having her bottom resurfaced!

October 2013

red paint

Selby Tony was purchased in August 2013 and work is already underway to transform her into York’s first Arts Barge.  Maintenance and welding has already been done on the hull to maximise the amount of time she will be able to spend in water before needing to come out again for survey work in the future and we’re very grateful to Waddingtons of Swinton for supporting us with this work and to Karl Acaster for his expertise and skills. Next steps, once the hull is painted and protected from the elements, is to bring her up from Swinton and into the Foss Basin in York. That should be happening mid 2014.


We’ll be posting more photos of the renovation work as soon as we get them in – we’re making sure that we keep a comprehensive photographic and video record of all the work which will be great to watch on the barge once she’s all done and dusted. But, as we always say, there’s a fair way to go before then. We’re focusing on fundraising for the remaining money we need to finish the project. Unfortunately, we’re unable to apply for Heritage Lottery Funding because the project (although renovating an ex working barge) isn’t sufficiently heritage orientated. So, once we know whether or not we’re likely to get a permanent mooring in York we’ll be applying to alternative funding sources including the corporate sector and a range of public and private grant-giving bodies.

Selby Tony's hull - with Steve as James Bond.
Selby Tony’s hull – with Steve as James Bond.

In the meantime, just to demonstrate what a lucky escape Selby Tony has had, Neil Jowsey took a pretty poignant shot of what her fate might have been. The blue painted hull in the foreground is Tony and you’ll see her sister Selby Peter on the bank opposite.

the fate of peter
Selby Peter awaiting scrappage. Selby Tony in the foreground.

Read on for earlier update.

July 2013

The funding

It’s been a packed 6 months since we were granted Economic Infrastructure Funding (EIF) by City of York Council (CYC) (Read more). We’d like to thank Jane Sachedina of for her pro bono support in this. The £5K we raised via our crowd-funding appeal has helped us enormously in demonstrating community support for the project which in turn has given added confidence to funders. But there’s still a way to go.

We’ve now had the first £25K instalment of the EIF funding and are preparing to approach potential sponsors and other funding bodies for additional finance to complete the design and build of the barge. While we can’t offer exact figures until barge designs are completed, we are looking to raise in the region of £160 – 200K from local and national business to complete the conversion and get the barge up and running. This is significantly more than we were looking at originally but that’s mainly because we’ve found a bigger boat…

The barge

Following the disappointment of Floss’s survey (read more) we’ve found a barge which we’re very optimistic about. Selby Tony is a 103ft by 19.4ft barge which worked between Selby and Hull. There are some pretty unflattering photographs of him out there but they don’t reflect the recent work by the boatyard to get him ready for sale – we’ll be posting out more as we get them. His ex-skipper Laurie Dews is now in his 90’s and has a wealth of memories and stories about his days on the river which have been collected in a really unique CD and book, “The Story of a River Bargeman”. You can also read more about Laurie in this Yorkshire Post feature and we hope some of you will meet him at events this year. We know he’s delighted about the prospect of Selby Tony surviving into the 21st Century as The Arts Barge and we’re keen to get him as involved as we can. On a practical note, Selby Tony is significantly larger than Floss and means that we can do a lot more with the space. We’ve placed a refundable deposit on the barge and we’re having him surveyed on 11th and 12th July. We’re hoping that the results of the survey mean we finally get to say we’ve got our barge.

Timescales and costs

The barge will be surveyed in July and needs to be purchased by August 31st if it’s a goer. The cost is £25K of which we’ve already placed a £2K deposit. But before we buy there’s work to be done on the hull in order to be able to inspect her properly and make sure the survey is accurate – and that’s expensive. At the moment it’s looking to cost around £3K but may go up depending on what we find. Whatever condition the hull is in, if we decide to buy the barge it’ll also need painting and, again, this adds to the costs. All of which means that it’s likely we’ll need the second installment of council funding in order to purchase unless the barge is in much better condition than we expect or we’re able to secure sponsorship before then. We’re in the process of completing the latest business plan and we’re getting support with that via the Cultural Entrepreneurship mentors. Once that’s done we’ll be able to approach the council and other funders for the remaining funds. Until all that’s in place we can’t give a date for the barge to be up and running but we’re still hoping it’s going to be summer next year and that’s what we’re aiming for.

The mooring

Having hoped that Skeldergate might be our home, at least for the next few years, we decided to withdraw the planning application until we’d made a firm decision about which barge we’ll be buying (read more) We do have other options and we’re in talks with the council right now regarding which offers us the best prospect of being as visible as possible and drawing people in. We’re working with commercial architect David Spencer of and naval architect Ian Paton on the barge design and planning process.

Thanks for bearing with us – this is a complicated project to make happen but we’re working hard on it all the time. If you think you can offer help in any way we’d be glad to hear from you.