Wednesday 18 July 2012

Leeds Waterfront Festival

Recently, I had accepted an invitation to the Inland Waterways Association boat gathering as part of the Leeds Waterfront Festival. Merlot was already moored at Thwaite Mills so I drove over. The site was abuzz with activity as I opened up Merlot and started to soak up the atmosphere.

I was promoting the N.C.B.A. and had a range of conversations with different people who were interested and supportive of our aims. It was very easy to demonstrate the value of community boating with colleagues from Safe Anchor Trust providing free boat trips over the weekend.
I had taken the opportunity to invite my fellow director over but it is very difficult to hold a meeting when I kept disappearing to photograph the celidah band singing shanty songs on the rear of Amy Hudson. A beautiful atmospheric setting with the wind blowing in the rigging.
Canal Connections is developing a relationship with our neighbours at T.S. Ark Royal and it was interesting to see the many different facets that the Cadets were helping with. Traffic control over the bridge, safety boat on the river, general support and supervision throughout the site.

I took a trip on Safe Anchors new boat and was impressed by the attitude of the Cadets as they took control of mooring. They were rewarded by a boat trip and I was able to see at first hand how they very quickly adapted their seamanship skills into crewing on the narrowboat.

As I walked around the site I again saw Cadets learning new skills as Chris supported them in making a fender – the older generation (!) passing on their skills. I spoke with Elaine who had organised the event. She was giving brass rubbing demonstrations but our discussion generated thought for next year in teaching young people how to learn and pass on these skills at next years festival.
I continued wandering and found the display of classic cars, a healistic reader using an old Romany caravan, and a display of creative arts which had been made over the weekend.

As I returned to Merlot the navigation was filled with Sobriety, a Humber barge, passing the Humber Keel. 2 similar boats providing access, education and conservation to support future generations but in different ways.
Heritage is about caring for the future as much as remembering the past and there were so many examples over the weekend that reinforced the ethos of Canal Connections – it’s not just a boat.

Tuesday 10 July 2012

Throw a Stone In The Water...

Last week I had a very full day of networking and idea propagation in three very similar but completely different locations!! First off I have applied for a start up grant from the School for Social Entrepreneurs. The information session was held in Harehills, Leeds. On arrival it was obviously a former Victorian  school building.  The imposing entrance gave a clue that its use had been changed with “Shine” in bold letters. The interior had been converted to a very modern minimalistic look but there was a buzz of vitality coming from the variety of social enterprises it now houses.
The 25 applicants had to give a 2 minute presentation as to their enterprise and it was inspiring to hear peoples experiences that had given them the passion to create change.
Stephen said: “I will stand up to show I am special” then recounted how he had been told the number of things he would not be able to do again – walk –speak – hear following serious illness.  Evidencing he could now do those things but the manner of peoples attitude had given him the desire to give fellow ‘special’ people information where they could get a standard of service. A trip Advisor model!!
Stewart as an ex-offender demonstrating how he would use his Masters degree to support others to overcome the barriers that individuals face on their release from prison.
Sheila talked about developing an education enterprise to “stop before you start”.  Following the death of her parents within 12 weeks of each other to lung cancer caused by smoking wanted to create an early intervention amongst young people. A very competitive process but I spoke to a number of individuals after the session to develop a network because of the synergy between our visions. – You don’t know where it may lead.
I then went into the middle of Seacroft.  The lovely green space hides the complexity of issues that many of the residents face but the ‘perimeter fence’ around the Academy gives an indication of the effect of those issues. The Moyes Centre is a multi Agency and community hub with hot desking and meeting space to enable partnership working to develop informally.  This was demonstrated on a number of occasions by people just saying hello but then saying “oh you are the boat man” or “Alan has told me about the canal man”  This created conversations about how they could see a boat project benefiting the area.  I showed my visitors around who could not hide their admiration for the facilities. Comments ranged from “It must cost you a fortune” to “Are we holding our A.G.M. here next year?”
The day was to finish with a relaxing cruise from Bramley.  Arranged by Beautiful Bramley, it was part of a weeks festival incorporating our friends from Safe Anchor again. They provided 2 boats for local residents to have cruises morning and afternoon. The boat was adorned with art created by the passengers but their programme showed their further creativity.  Bring your own vinyl (records) and dance on the smallest floating dance floor to a floating mini cinema.

The boat was abuzz with conversations about the benefits that Safe Anchor had brought.  I could not resist throwing in “but that is only four times a year”.  This led to conversations about how they would use their local canal if they had greater access. Pam from the local Tenants and Residents Association said “We have a young lad on an ABC order but he would do really well on this” – Steve from the Community Association said “We would use it for inter-generational work” Alan explained how his pupils had benefited on the ‘Horse boat project’ – Chris could certainly see it helping her family intervention work. John explained about his idea for the use of the canal between Bramley and the town centre. This raised the concern about the boarded up lock keepers cottage. I explained it was to be auctioned and this led to an action plan as to how we could delay the sale in order to put a business model together for social and public benefit.  “Once its gone – we’ll never get it back”
Safe Anchor, providing "Access For All"
Paul sat quietly in the corner listening to the conversations but when asked he told us that he was making a guide to help people who had mobility problems to find out where they could hire an adapted boat.  I gave him details of a colleague who organises trips for families with wheelchair users and voiced the NCBA concerns about the limited compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act –“Perhaps we could work together and ….then there’s Steve from this morning.”
……………….and see where the ripples go

The Merlot Arrives in Leeds

 As a reward for the students help on the recent Horse Boat Project, I had promised them some boat handling training. “You can drive the boat instead of walking alongside it!” But first it was time for Merlot to come down stream to Leeds. Another couple of cadets offered their assistance and again used their new skills to operate the locks. “A different operation as the boat is now going downstream”  
Bilbo waiting to start its epic journey - unnoticed and unheralded but bringing heritage to life!
Merlot pulled away from Shipley Wharf leaving the warmth and friendship of this little community to take on the “unchartered” waters of Leeds. We were accompanied by Chas in his boat “Can I share with you as I am single handed and it is impossible to operate the bridges on your own.” He explained to the young people the pleasures of living on a boat but also the difficulties. At the end of the day I asked Charley, one of the cadets, why she had got involved in the project. “When we were asked to volunteer I didn’t really understand it. I thought it was unique but I thought it would be boring, but it wasn’t. I really enjoyed it but to-day has been a 100 times better.” 
A view of Leeds as we bring Merlot downstream
I thanked them and made the last stretch on my own. I left Office lock to enter the iconic splendour of Granary Wharf and moored her underneath the sentinels of Candle House and the Hilton Hotel. Merlot had arrived in Leeds to start the next stage of her life as a community boat enabling communities to access the waterways with a focus on creative inspiration and family engagement, combining three interests of what little I know of this generous stranger in America.
A view of Thwaite Mills as we negotiate a new home for Merlot

Monday 9 July 2012

Conference Update: Waterways Heritage Conference - “A new vision for Waterways Museums” (May 2012)

I received an invitation to facilitate a workshop at Ellesmere Port on “How can museums meet social needs?” I telephoned Peter and queried “have you got the right person? I don”t know anything about museums.” His re-assurance surely meant they could not get anyone else!
On arrival I was met by an ‘army’ of volunteers – administration, catering, guiding. Some were dressed in period costume but they all wore a smile. This wasn’t a museum it was a vibrant venue to bring history alive. The noticeboard was full of events – “knit and natter” alongside the “Youthy theatre” – bringing young and old together naturally.
The day was again a full packed agenda with a variety of quality speakers but it was not about dusty relics it was about people. How people had brought the museum to life and more importantly how it had transformed peoples lives.
Time for my workshop – ½ hour to find the answer but 29 minutes was spent discussing what we meant by social needs!!
The points raised were consolidated for the feedback but a brief summary was 2 elements: people and story telling. The museum holds so many stories about our past but which are relevant to our future. We need people to tell that story, we need people to bring the story to life, different people have different skills, different abilities but they can all come together for different aspects – I learnt a new phrase of “job slicing”.
The summing up included the comments of “giving people a stake in Society – giving them value.”
Before I left I sneaked around the corner to see the Royal Yacht. How appropriate that The Queens accomadation whilst she toured some of the North East waterfronts, which demonstrate how the waterways are breathing economic and social development into some of our more disadvantaged towns and cities, should be moored here reinforcing our vision for the future – people are important.
A tiring but rewarding day.