Inside the Bibby Stockholm barge to house asylum seekers – with 24/7 security, 20ft high fences and metal bunk beds

20-foot-high security fences and a heavy metal gate manned by police surround the Bibby Stockholm – this isn’t a floating prison, the government stress – but it certainly feels like one when you arrive.

As we walk up the gangway, it’s clear to see the barge isn’t ready yet. The final electrics are being wired, licks of paint being applied.

The vast majority of the 200 bedrooms being used are twin (there are some four and six berth rooms) – all contain metal bunk beds, a TV and are en suite.

Towels and a bar of soap have been placed on each mattress. The rooms are basic and functional.

The asylum seekers can come and go via a dedicated bus into Weymouth – but the government’s aim is to minimise the need to leave – so there are plenty of things to do on board.

The Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge, a 222 bedroom, three-storey vessel  EMBARGO 15:00 - 21/07/2023  Sent by Dan Whitehead

Image: The gangway up to the Bibby Stockholm

The Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge, a 222 bedroom, three-storey vessel  EMBARGO 15:00 - 21/07/2023  Sent by Dan Whitehead

Image: Large fences and security cameras aboard the Bibby Stockholm

Cream leather sofas fill the movie and TV room, there are treadmills and weights in the gym and an IT room where there’ll be a PC for every 20 people.

Inside in the middle of the barge are two outdoor courtyards – they’ve been painted green and will soon be kitted out with basketball hoops and picnic benches.

Those in charge say activities provided locally may include hiking, football and giving the asylum seekers allotments to tend to. Tickets to watch football and cricket are also on the cards.

The Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge, a 222 bedroom, three-storey vessel  EMBARGO 15:00 - 21/07/2023  Sent by Dan Whitehead

Image: A living area aboard the Bibby Stockholm

The Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge, a 222 bedroom, three-storey vessel  EMBARGO 15:00 - 21/07/2023

Image: A gym area on the barge

The Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge, a 222 bedroom, three-storey vessel  EMBARGO 15:00 - 21/07/2023  Sent by Dan Whitehead

Image: The canteen on the Bibby Stockholm

There will be 24/7 security – with up to 16 security guards on shift.

A number of medical rooms will be staffed by a full-time nurse and part-time GP to ensure local NHS services are protected, with £1,900 per occupied bed being provided for health provision.

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In the canteen, the menus on the wall list meals such as oriental kofta, chicken kabsa, fish curry and Egyptian beef with potato – we’re told the aim is to source local produce.

Essentially the barge feels like a dated ferry. Fine for a night or two, but up to nine months with 499 others may be a different matter.

The Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge, a 222 bedroom, three-storey vessel  EMBARGO 15:00 - 21/07/2023  Sent by Dan Whitehead

The Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge, a 222 bedroom, three-storey vessel  EMBARGO 15:00 - 21/07/2023  Sent by Dan Whitehead

The Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge, a 222 bedroom, three-storey vessel  EMBARGO 15:00 - 21/07/2023  Sent by Dan Whitehead

The Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge, a 222 bedroom, three-storey vessel

Image: Each room has a small TV

Balancing basic facilities with at least some luxuries is an almost impossible challenge for the government. Provide nothing and this barge could be a tinderbox, but every pound spent is scrutinised amid a cost of living crisis.

As we leave our tour, protestors gather outside the gates.

One Stand Up To Racism campaigner looks at our photos: “Regardless of them having a gym – it’s a prison, isn’t it? Or a slightly glorified version.”

The Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge, a 222 bedroom, three-storey vessel  EMBARGO 15:00 - 21/07/2023  Sent by Dan Whitehead

Image: The toilets on the barge

The Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge, a 222 bedroom, three-storey vessel  EMBARGO 15:00 - 21/07/2023  Sent by Dan Whitehead

Image: Towels and soap

On the opposite side, The No To The Barge Group gather with placards.

“It’s going to be a tinderbox anyway,” one says.

“You’re putting 500 men, that don’t know each other, into a very small area, have you ever been to Portland in the winter? It’s pretty bleak – there’s going to be issues.”

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