Tony Tucker’s Floating Church – Yes, you read that right

Published: 23 November 20

Denizen Works, two young, but successful, innovative architects produced a proposal for a floating church for the London Diocese.  Their sketch featured a unique idea of having a lifting roof; originally over both the fore and aft sections of the vessel with main public entrance between.  The idea being based on organ bellows and a Dormobile.

I was approached to properly design and engineer the vessel.  Turks Shipyard at Chatham Historic Dockyard in Kent were approached to do the building.

The hull design and construction were relatively simple being a wide beam barge the only major difference was to use a Schilling rudder for steering to give better overall manoeuvrability.  Architects have little knowledge of, or generally worry about weight distribution so ballasting was a challenge.

The superstructure was a different matter.  Having two sections of roof opening was quickly kicked into touch as the aft section opened over kitchen and toilet areas. 

8.4m length of aluminium alloy roof forward opens on a hinge using simple hydraulic cylinders.  The gap left is filled with a fabric bellows arrangement.  This sounds simple until one realises that it has to be fire proof, must maintain its’ shape even in a strong wind and more especially when the roof is being closed so it is not guillotined.  The interstitial spaces created must be vermin proof and keep out insects who decide it’s a nice place to set up home.  It must be capable of being fitted (it weighs over 1000kg) and is U-shaped.  Sections should be “removable’ in case of serious damage.  Last, but not least, space is necessary for it to be stowed in readiness but, be invisible both internally and externally.  I worked with Chris Jeckells of Jeckells Sailmakers in creating and engineering the bellows.

When this started the local churches were using an interim vessel “Elsdale II” or “The floating classroom”.  Elsdale II was innovative as she was a 70’x14’ (22m x 4.26m) all electric inland boat built in 2004 to take school parties during the day and operate as a function boat by night (up to 14 hours use) with recharge overnight.  Unbeknown to them I designed the boat they were already using.

The church is now located on a towpath mooring in Hackney Wick, North East London.  Moored on the River Lee Navigation Alongside Here East Technology Campus at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park where it will stay for the next 3-5 years as a base for St Columbia East, before it sails off to support other canal-side communities.

Hackney is now known for its creative regeneration's dotted around the borough and now it has a new addition where passers-by are offers a new place of learning and well-being.

Genesis will help serve growing communities who live around the east London canal and welcomes people of all faiths and none. As much as it will provide a venue for Christian worship, the boat will provide a place of learning and wellbeing, it will also be available for a host of community led development programmes, childrens theatre, art exhibitions, business functions and inter-faith celebrations.

St Columba East London, a new worshipping community led by the Revd Dave Pilkington, has a permanent home following the delivery of a bespoke floating church. Revd Pilkington has already organised five-a-side matches with his congregation and he is even hoping to conduct baptisms in the water, in a stretch known locally as the Hackney Riviera. After all,” he says, Jesus was baptised in the Jordan, which probably wasnt too sanitised either.”

The Diocese of Londons vision for this creation was in partnership with the two other churches St Paul Old Ford and St Mary of Eton. Supported with the help of £10,000 in funding from Allchurches Trust as well as from others The MercersCharitable Foundation, The Garfield Weston Foundation, Allchurches Trust, The John and Diana Kemp-Welch Charitable Trust, The Wates Family Enterprise Trust and The Jerusalem Trust, as well as those who gave anonymously.

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