Hermitage Community Mooring was established in 2006 and comprises nineteen permanent moorings and two visitor berths.
The moorings are attached to four main pontoons attached to a central pontoon that houses a community room and other amenities including a toilet and shower, a small kitchen and an office. The mooring is connected to the shore via a bridge that has to cope with the seven metre tide variance. The nineteen permanent residential moorings are occupied by a variety of historic barges, three British with the majority of Dutch origin. The two visitor berths can be occupied by any vessel requiring a temporary berth. The historical context of the vessels occupying the mooring is crucial to its existence. It was a key factor in the granting of planning consent for the mooring in 2006 and remains a critical criterion when accepting any new boats to the mooring. When a vessel is up for sale, all prospective buyers have to be interviewed by the Membership team in order to ascertain the suitability of any new member coming into the community. The other unusual aspect to the mooring is that it is operated by a cooperative comprised of all of the vessel owners moored there. They have a financial stake in the mooring and are collectively responsible for its day-to-day, and long-term maintenance, as well as for open days and the community engagement programme operated by the mooring.
The mooring gets its name from Hermitage Coal Wharf, which occupied the riverfront in Wapping. It changed to Hermitage Steam Wharf a few years later. It was largely an industrial area, with a number of docks backing onto Wapping High Street. The whole riverfront along the Wapping stretch was taken over by wharves, like Hermitage.
The mooring was originally owned and operated as a commercial facility by Peter Duggan, a Thames waterman for over fifty years. The mooring had no connection to the shore and had been used for a variety of uses related to his civil engineering business. This included the storage of lighters, vessels de-commissioned prior to scrapping, the berthing of maintenance vessels including floating dry docks, oil collection vessels, berthing facilities for tugs, dredgers and other workboats. The environment was very much one associated with key activities relating to the commercial use of the river .
Over time Peter Duggan had seen the nature of work on the river change and whilst he retained his core business, with increased regulation and the changing nature of the commercial role of the Thames he was looking to dispose of the mooring. The wharf was being reallocated for new uses, which didn't sit well with his civil engineering business and the mooring was going into disrepair. The impetus to convert the commercial mooring into a new purpose built mooring for live afloat vessels came from a small group of boat owners who had been moored at Tower Bridge Moorings at Downings Roads on the opposite side of the river adjacent to St Saviours dock. That particular mooring had a complex history and, at the time, did not provide the long-term security that those owners were looking for . Anne Lydiat, on one of the founding members of Hermitage Community Moorings explained that "what was an incredibly idyllic lifestyle had been punctured by this eviction notice", which had been issued by LB Southwark .
The group approached Peter Duggan who agreed to sell his mooring to them. However, in embarking upon this journey the group were taking an enormous risk as they had given up what little security was afforded to them at Downings Roads and purchased a rundown commercial mooring with no link to the shore. Their vision was for a new purpose built mooring but had no certainty that they would obtain the necessary planning consents or indeed the funding to build it. However, they considered that the prize at stake was so great the risk was worth taking. The live afloat community generally has a tendency to be wary of regulation and there is often a tension between them and those bodies who are required to regulate. From the outset the group recognised that they needed to work with, and not against, the various authorities if Hermitage was going to stand any chance of success. This formed a major part of their strategy.
A planning application for the new mooring was submitted to The London Borough of Tower Hamlets in December 2004 after nearly two years of preparation. Following submission, a number of objections were received from local residents and in particular those who had purchased flats in a new residential development that overlooked the proposed mooring. However, this was offset by many more letters of support from local Wapping residents who considered the proposal to be an asset, giving them much needed managed access to the river. Anne Lydiat referred to the importance of the local community in the planning for the moorings, which included a floating classroom and community space. After further consideration, the Planning Committee finally granted permission (subject to a number of conditions) in July 2006.
Following planning consent the group of owners advertised for other boat owners to invest in the project and become one of the new residents. Funding was particularly problematic as the live afloat community does not have access to traditional housing finance, such as mortgages to finance the purchase of vessels and associated conversion costs plus, in this case, the cost of constructing the mooring. It is estimated that the final cost of the build was in the region of £2million raised by the nineteen residents through a variety of means including borrowing from friends and family. Within the new community there were a number of people with a variety of skills including design, engineering, project management and budget finance. At various times all members were to differing degrees involved in the physical construction of the mooring.
Hermitage Community Moorings officially opened in 2009 and is owned and run by a cooperative made up of the members who have permanent moorings there. All members pay a quarterly sum that pays for a full time moorings manager, covers the running costs and builds up a contingency fund for unforeseen expenditure. Financial contributions are calculated on the length of the vessel. A key requirement for any new owner coming to the mooring is that they own and are capable of navigating their vessel; Hermitage Community Moorings admits only 'live aboards' there are no static 'houseboats' here.
The relationship with the local community and the value that such a mooring can add to the vibrancy of the area was a key argument in support of the planning application. The ongoing work of Hermitage has completely turned round any negative feeling there was towards the project and today the mooring is seen as a key asset. In addition to open days there are projects with local schools and the setting up of an independent charity (Hermitage River Projects) that operates the visitor's berths and helps to coordinate events at Hermitage. Its aim is to promote knowledge and understanding of the river and amongst other things to undertake educational initiatives in sustainability, archaeology and increase an understanding of what it is like to live on the river.
Although members have come and gone, many of the original residents still remain at Hermitage and there is a strong sense of community much of which is based on the common challenges that come with living afloat and are best overcome through common effort. Whilst as in any community some friendships develop more than others there is a clear sense of belonging and the continued success of the project being dependent upon everyone pulling together. They strongly believe that the moorings is unique, that it is a sustainable model for future moorings, and they are proud to be part of it.