Boat Building: Sailing Towards Learning: Circles Alternative Education’s Boat Project Empowers Youth with Community-Based Education
Circles Alternative Education is a non-profit community interest company. Its primary goal is to engage young people in learning through practical skills development. They focus on providing opportunities to those who are not in full-time education. Additionally, they specifically target individuals with special educational needs, particularly those who struggle with literacy skills. Unlike traditional schools that concentrate on the 8 core GCSEs, Circles Education takes a different approach. They offer practical elements such as bushcraft, hairdressing, and construction, providing students with valuable hands-on skills.
he organisation is also led by individuals such as Chris Martin with a background in boatbuilding. Chris has a particular interest in using WEST SYSTEM products and has built and restored a variety of mechanical projects, including a Lambretta scooter, MK2 Golf, and fibreglass dinghies. Traditional techniques are favoured over mechanical tools. This approach ensures that young people acquire a foundational understanding of hand tools and how they operate.
Circles’ latest project involves building a 20ft-long boat. Scruffie Marine manufactures the design and material kit for this boat, known as a Secret 20. A man in Essex originally bought the kit. However, he realised he didn’t have the necessary time to assemble it. As a result, he offered it to Circles Education.
What was the inspiration behind the boat project?
This project is the biggest one the organisation has undertaken so far. It has proven to be a great way to engage and excite students. This is particularly true after the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. The build involves cutting out plywood parts using CNC technology. Additionally, students learn practical skills in boatbuilding, such as surface preparation and filleting techniques, as they put the parts together.
Chris Martin, a senior lead in Construction and Engineering, has extensive experience in the marine industry. This is due to his former profession as a professional Thames Barge Skipper. He states that…
“Circles Alternative Education uses WEST SYSTEM products for construction because of their proven reliability and ability to facilitate learning for students on the topics of ratio and mixing, as well as exothermic reactions. The organisation procures WEST SYSTEM epoxy and other required materials from Marine & Industrial.”
What has been achieved in the boat’s development so far?
The boat construction has made significant progress. The team has sheathed the vessel, installed stringers, raised the keel, and sheathed the bottom.As attention now turns to the next stage of construction.
The target is to have the boat ready for water by June, just in time before the Year 11 students leave. Once complete, the boat will be ready to sail the waters. The rig and sails will be the next items on the agenda for completion in 2024. New students will build the mast, while the year 11s are set to enjoy exciting sailing, fishing, and other trips.
We have planned to use a small electric outboard to power the boat. The project is progressing smoothly, and we are on track to complete the boat within the desired timeframe.
Can engaging projects boost student confidence and attitudes towards learning?
Some students have negative experiences in school, which can leave them feeling disheartened. However, Circles Alternative Education has found a way to boost their confidence, motivation, and inspiration. By engaging in large boat building projects and other activities supported by employers, students can see the progression of their hard work from start to finish, feeling encouraged and inspired. The goal is to create a positive and encouraging atmosphere that promotes participation and changes students’ attitudes towards learning.
Enrolment at Circles Education is possible through referrals from various sources, and students can spend up to three days per week on campus. While some instruction in Math and English is provided, the primary focus is on individualised educational plans that allow students to choose what they want to learn and achieve. Circles Education aims to create a supportive environment that helps students thrive and succeed.
Choosing the Boat Design: Reviving Maritime Heritage
In a previous project, Circles Education focused on restoring old dinghies. The aim was not only to revive the traditional crafts. It was also to impart knowledge about the rich history and maritime heritage of the area. As advocates for preserving traditional craftsmanship, there was strong emphasis placed on the aesthetics of the design, recognising its inherent beauty. Additionally, with the aim to educate students about the importance of maintaining cultural traditions and promoting sustainability through the preservation of these crafts.
Overcoming Challenges and Celebrating Progress
The students experienced a sense of enjoyment while sanding and shaping the transom. They were rewarded by witnessing the complete transformation of the transom from start to finish. But when it came to longer tasks, like sheathing the boat, time management became a crucial factor. This was especially true when it came to mixing the epoxy and applying it to the fabric. To address this issue, we increased work sessions to an hour and a half. We took the imperative step of ensuring that we prepared all the necessary tools and materials before taking a break. Allowing students to complete half of the boat sheathing in one session and continue seamlessly the following day.
Despite the limited session time and short attention spans, Circles Education managed to accomplish a great deal. Drawn to the idea of tackling something massive, the progress made was truly inspiring. Witnessing individual and team efforts come to fruition was incredibly rewarding. Thanks to the fast-curing epoxy, we were able to sand and paint what we had set the day before without any delay. While filleting may have become a little tedious, the mixing process was surprisingly enjoyable for the students. They found it interesting to discover that the epoxy generated heat and began smoking after a certain amount of time had elapsed.
“Observing the chemical reaction that occurred was fascinating – a true display of chemistry in action”. (Chris Martin)
What are the next steps?
Ben, an employee of Marine & Industrial, has several tasks lined up to complete for a boat. These tasks involve applying an anti-foul coating to safeguard the boat’s hull, painting it, and installing a metal strip to protect the keel. Furthermore, there are plans to build cabin decks, providing an opportunity for students to acquire new skills. By the time we build these decks, we will have completed the BTEC qualifications. Anyone who has worked on the boat over the past year can vouch for its proper floating capabilities.
David Johnson of Wessex Resins & Adhesives, which manufactures WEST SYSTEM® epoxy under licence in Europe, will be on hand to provide technical support and will be back to bring WEST SYSTEM demos to the team of students.
Woodworking and making mini river tables have thrilled students, as there has been a significant rise in demand for these creations. Situated in ancient woodland, Circles Education offers bushcraft sessions where students can utilise a few fallen oak trees and coppice wood/hazel to craft their own oars. To reduce the impact on the environment, there is a concerted effort to utilise materials from the woodland and WEST SYSTEM to the greatest extent possible. The process for creating these oars involves several steps, including planning and laminating the wood using WEST SYSTEM epoxy. The students cut the trees, square the wood, laminate them, and produce them entirely from the land.
If you’d like to find out more about Circle’s Alternative Education click here!
If you are interested in boat building but feel unsure of where to start, our WEST SYSTEM beginners guide can equip you with the confidence and knowledge to embark on your own project.
Where to buy WEST SYSTEM?
If you’re interested in buying WEST SYSTEM products, you can find more information here
What WEST SYSTEM products did Circles Alternative Education use?
WEST SYSTEM 105 Epoxy Resin®
WEST SYSTEM 205 Fast Hardener®
WEST SYSTEM 206 Slow Hardener®
WEST SYSTEM® 403 Microfibres
WEST SYSTEM® 404 High Density Filler
736 – 300g/m² ±45° Biaxial Glass Fabric 1265mm wide
740 – 135g/m² Plain Weave Glass Cloth 1000mm wide