Paddle Steamer Apprentices

Eleven young apprentices have signed up to help restore the 87 year old Medway Queen Paddle Steamer - the last estuary steamer in the UK.

She has been out of service since the 60s, but now work is underway to return her to the waters of the River Medway.

The young apprentices who were recruited under the council-run 100 in 100 Medway Apprentice Challenge, will have to turn their hands to carpentry, welding and mechanical engineering as they start training and restoring parts of the ship including handrails and lamp standards.

The Medway Queen was built in Scotland in 1924 but spent her pleasure-boat career sailing on the Thames and Medway. During World War 2 she was used during the Dunkirk rescue, making seven trips to help bring 7,000 men back from the beaches there.

After the war she returned to her former life as a pleasure boat, until being withdrawn from service in 1963 and turned into a marina club house and night club on Isle of Wight.

The Queen was brought to Chatham in 1984 when she was bought by a group of businessmen, but she was left to fall into disrepair and decay until the Medway Queen Preservation Society was set up to save her.

Since then work has been taking place to bring her back to her former glory, with a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant of £1.86m being secured in 2006 for the rebuilding of the ship's hull.

17 year old Alex Stevens from Gillingham, who is one of the chosen apprentices who will be working on the steamer said: "I’d heard about the Medway Queen through my mum and dad and I actually think it’s quite an honour to work on the restoration of something that obviously means a lot to the local community."

Before hearing about the scheme he had been struggling to find work as a plumber. He said: "What attracted me to this apprenticeship was the opportunity to get so many different skills under my belt, from carpentry to learning about ship engines".