THE Rendezvous Boatyard on Tonbridge’s Barden Road is set to reopen after it was taken over by an enthusiast who once lived on the river himself.
The majority of the narrow boat community known as the ‘Venice of Tonbridge’ were evicted from the site last year after falling out with the owners.
But now boats are set to return to the stretch of river they adorned for a quarter of a century when the yard opens its gates again in April.
Fourteen people were living in 10 narrow boats when they were told in October 2016 that there would be changes made to their tenancy agreement and they had two weeks to sign up.
This meant that they no longer had access to electricity, drinking water, toilet and washing facilities, shed storage and garden areas, which had been included under their previous agreement.
In what became an increasingly bitter saga, the owner Brian Mockford secured their eviction in Hastings County Court on March 13 last year.
More than 2,000 people signed a petition to stop their enforced removal. But the judge ordered them to vacate the site by June 30, and they were left with £23,000 in legal bills.
‘We are boaters, so we are sympathetic with the need to keep the yard going’
Residents bemoaned the loss of a historic feature of the town, which also provided affordable housing and permitted an alternative lifestyle.
Now Tim Bond of Edenbridge has secured a long-term lease on the Rendezvous and is inviting prospective tenants to apply for a mooring with Tonbridge Boatyard Ltd.
“I used to hire boats on the river as a kid with my dad and two brothers in the 1970s,” he told the Times. “I’ve had a soft spot for it for a long time.”
“I lived at the boatyard in 2000 with my wife Catherine for about two years. We had a Springer 40 called Steadfast of Tonbridge which we did up. It was our first house.
“We are boaters, so we are sympathetic with the need to keep the yard going. It’s Victorian and old fashioned, and we want to keep the charm and the character of it – we are very keen on that.”
After the eviction Alan Mockford, the owner’s son, put up signs advertising vacancies for ‘Mockford Moorings’ available from last October.
It had been suggested that the family wanted to build on the land, though Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council advised that it was very unlikely that any planning permission would be granted because the area was a flood risk.
Mr Bond approached Mr Mockford about having a launch in the yard to sail around the town.
“Mr Mockford could not have been more helpful,” he said. “I asked him if he wanted to sell the boatyard and he said ‘no, we will leave it to you to run’. He was very accommodating.”
Mr Bond posted a letter to residents in shop windows in the town describing the work he was undertaking and inviting interest from boaters. “I’ve had so many emails, it’s been fantastic,” he said. “I feel like I’m a local celebrity. It’s a bit weird, people come up and shake my hand.
“I have been approached by one of the original tenants. I would be happy to have them back, I’m happy to talk to them.”
Lucy Athey of the Barden Residents’ Association commented: “This is very good news in that it will be fantastic to see narrowboats down there again.
‘It’s just a shame that our friends and neighbours had to leave there’
“It’s just a shame that our friends and neighbours had to leave there unnecessarily. They were members of our Barden community just as much as anyone who lives here.
“We’ve even lost our vice-chair of our residents association as he was one of the boaters.”
She added: “We’re delighted that the new leaseholder is keen to refurbish it sympathetically.
“It’s an important part of Barden and Tonbridge history that needs to be preserved – when so many parts of our town are at risk of being replaced by featureless housing.”
Mr Bond is clearing up debris and bringing the yard into line with health and safety regulations.
“We want to turn it back to what it was,” he added. “It’s a very peaceful place. The idea is to keep it ‘olde worlde’. I’m a traditionalist.”
If you are interested in a mooring with Tonbridge Boatyard Ltd, call Tim Bond on 07860 789681 or email email@example.com