Man behind Blyth Tall Ship project honoured with a National Lottery award

A delighted Clive Gray receives his Heritage Lottery award from broadcaster and historian David Olusoga.A delighted Clive Gray receives his Heritage Lottery award from broadcaster and historian David Olusoga.
A delighted Clive Gray receives his Heritage Lottery award from broadcaster and historian David Olusoga.
An inspirational local hero has been honoured for turning people’s lives around with his Blyth Tall Ship project.

Retired Royal Marine officer Clive Gray was handed a National Lottery Award by historian and BBC broadcaster David Olusoga after winning the heritage category.

The aim of the National Lottery Awards is to shine a light on individuals and groups who do extraordinary things with the help of National Lottery funding.

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More than 1,300 nominations were received in this year’s campaign and a judging panel selected Mr Gray as a winner because of his ambitious work with young people to help improve their employability, life chances and well-being.

Mr Gray, 58, said: “I can only accept this award on behalf of the whole Blyth Tall Ship family, because from the very start we have been a dynamic and innovative organisation made up of volunteers and a few key, highly skilled personnel.

“Combining that local enthusiasm with the National Lottery funding that Blyth Tall Ship has received has enabled us to do so much for our community.”

He said he learned about the award via a phone call, but did not realise he had won it. He said: “I thought we’d just got on to a shortlist, but then it became obvious that we’d actually won it.

"It’s amazing – a once-in-a-lifetime moment.”

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As well as a trophy, Clive received £5,000 which he revealed would be put towards an application to develop a maritime heritage centre in Blyth.

The ‘Blyth Flagship Project’ will aim to change the way people perceive the town, and make it a magnet for tourists.

The heritage centre will aim to improve people’s sense of well-being through learning heritage skills, and also have a museum and visitor centre.

Mr Gray said: “I am hoping to turn this £5,000 into a multi-million pound project, with the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund.”

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Blyth was once a proud shipbuilding and coal mining community but today is measured in the worst 10 per cent of deprived areas in the UK, with high levels of unemployment.

The project began in 2009 to revive fortunes of local people while also marking the 200th anniversary of the discovery of Antarctica by a ship and sailor from the town, a proud moment in Blyth’s history that had seemingly been forgotten.

A key part of its mission, of which Clive was expedition chairman, was to restore a 100-year-old tall ship and train volunteers in seafaring skills, to recreate and pay tribute to the historic voyage in 1819.

The target of the scheme, which has received several grants from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, is people not in employment, education or training. Or, as Mr Gray calls them, “diamonds in the rough”.

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David Olusoga added: “Clive is a thoroughly deserving winner of this award. It’s amazing to see how he’s helped so many young people in difficult circumstances and given them the tools to build something truly exciting.

“Blyth has an incredibly proud shipbuilding heritage, so it’s great to see a project engaging with that past while also providing vital skills for the future.

“Thanks to National Lottery players, Clive has been able to keep Blyth’s shipbuilding story afloat.”