Dunkirk Little Ship to be at heart of new £3M immersive heritage experience

27 May 2021
Veteran Hugh Spencer, Mary Burch of the Skylark IX Recovery Trust and James Currie from Alternatives Drug Recovery Service
The Skylark IX Recovery Trust announced plans to place the Skylark IX ‘Dunkirk Little Ship’ at the heart of a new immersive heritage experience and boatbuilding training centre in Dumbarton.

The proposed £3m Spirit of Skylark Centre will ensure a permanent home for Skylark IX, which is listed on the National Historic Ships Register and believed to be one of only two ‘Dunkirk Little Ships’ from the World War II Operation Dynamo surviving in Scotland. 

Skylark IX became one of the famed ‘Dunkirk Little Ships’ in May 1940 when she served during Operation Dynamo, the ten day mission to save 338,000 Allied soldiers from Dunkirk. Afterwards, she continued her wartime service as a barrage balloon vessel in Poole Harbour.

A new future

The 'Little Ship' was rescued and is currently being restored by a specialist boatbuilding team working with people recovering from drug addiction and social isolation thanks to funding from The National Lottery Heritage Fund. The new Centre will enable the Trust to help a far greater number of people across West Dunbartonshire through boatbuilding, heritage and arts programmes inspired by Skylark and her story. 


The Spirit of Skylark Centre, which will sit in the grounds of the Scottish Maritime Museum (Denny Tank) on Castle Street, will also add a new dimension to Dumbarton’s rich heritage and, it is hoped, link into the regeneration of Dumbarton waterfront and town centre. 


Remembrance and reflection

As well as a café, community space and courtyard, the new Spirit of Skylark Centre will include a space for remembrance and reflection. A second remembrance spot will be located at Sweeney’s Cruise Company in Balloch, where veterans boarded Skylark for remembrance trips on Loch Lomond for thirty years.

The new Centre will also reflect Dumbarton’s wider maritime, industrial and social history also on show at the neighbouring Scottish Maritime Museum, which stands on the site of the former famous and innovative William Denny Shipyard. 

Volunteering, leisure and life-long learning opportunities will also include research for higher education; teaching resources, projects and visits for primary and secondary schools; oral history, film and performance projects.

A rare survivor

Unveiling the plans, Mary Burch BEM, Chair of the Skylark IX Recovery Trust, said: “In her lifetime, Skylark has been battered by wartime service, storms and at least two sinkings. Although, following an in-depth condition survey and advice from marine surveyors and maritime heritage experts, we have had to sadly accept that she will never sail again, we have taken some of her indomitable spirit to go well beyond our original vision.

“With our proposed Spirit of Skylark Centre, we will preserve Skylark IX in the most historically authentic and dignified way and help more people make positive and even transformative change to their lives and community. We will ensure that Skylark remains in our community as a significant reminder of the history of Dunkirk and the Little Ships, as a tool for education, employment and inclusivity and as a landmark that will merge with the future plans of Dumbarton and bring visitors to see what hope and resilience can achieve.

“We are so grateful to the National Lottery Heritage Fund and all the veterans, local community groups and passionate individuals who have steadfastly supported Skylark IX over the past decade and enabled us to embark on this hugely exciting new chapter in her life.”

The Spirit of Skylark Centre has been developed in collaboration with the Scottish Maritime Museum, which is home to Scotland’s national maritime heritage collection with sites at Dumbarton and Irvine, Ayrshire. 

The Skylark IX Recovery Trust, a collaboration between West Dunbartonshire’s Alternatives Drug Recovery Service, The Vale of Leven Remembrance Association and Leven Cruising Club, with support from the Scottish Maritime Museum, revealed plans for the Spirit of Skylark Centre during the 81st Anniversary of Dunkirk.