Sunday 15 December 2013

Thanks To Canal Connections...

I was in a bit of a jam. I needed help as Rudolph was a bit off colour. Canal Connections offered me a lift on one of their boats. They picked me up at Granary Wharf at the back of Leeds railway station on one of their boats. Could this be true!! I was in the middle of Leeds. We travelled along the River Aire at 12 midday on a Friday Lunch time – I could not believe what I was seeing.
We passed Asda and saw a few workers taking some time out for a cigarette – I could not resist waving and shouting Merry Christmas – sheepish waves were returned – is that because they were having a cig “behind the bike shed” ! or just could not believe that Santa was passing on a boat -  which was more unusual? a moving boat or Santa?
We approached Victoria Bridge – iconic landmark bang in the centre of Leeds. On the bridge a group of young high achievers, business people laughed and waved  - on their way to a christmas office party?
I looked to the left and saw a multitude of rubbish collected against the bridge – street cones, take away boxes.  I looked to the right and saw a kingfisher – sat on a branch ready to pounce on an unsuspecting fish. We passed under the bridge and the kingfisher swooped in front of the boat, its beautiful colours glinting in the sunlight. It landed on a branch in the mouth of an underground water  drain. 10 yards further along I saw a “rough sleeper” huddled in his sleeping bag under the cover of an arch. I waved but could not shout Merry Xmas.
A short trip on the boat but showed so many images of Leeds each not seen by the other.
We continued along passed bars with closed doors and windows facing onto the waterfront. We passed many iconic residences with balconies overlooking the waterfront but could only see 4 people to wave to. I waved to the passing crowds walking on the waterfront but it amounted to less that 2 dozen !
The rest of the trip raised similar question marks as I went to my grotto at Thwaite Mills where a “room for the night” had been set at the visitor moorings.  There was no room at the Inn – 2 fishermen had beaten the boat. 1 laughingly gloated “we beat you here” the other dangled his 6 metre pole in the centre of the navigation as if goading the skipper to alter his course – moving it at the last second and muttering obscenities.  I could not wave and wish a Merry Christmas.
We did not stop at the visitor mooring but glided into a quiet spot.  I asked the skipper if there was something he would like for Christmas. A quiet reflection “ Today we are celebrating Nelson Mandelas life. I would love to bring meaning to his speech – “If we can learn to hate why cannot we be taught to love”.
The waterways are a wonderful resource in the centre of our city – “surely there is room for all to learn, to relax, to enjoy?"
Santa's grotto at Thwaite Mills

Tuesday 4 June 2013

Guest Blog by Marie Millward of Dandelion Environment and Community

Sharing Feedback from Building the Social Economy through the Waterways Conference

Delegates from all over the UK came to east Leeds in March to a conference organised by Canal Connections with the National Community Boats Association (NCBA). The conference speakers provided inspiring examples of groundbreaking work, particularly on the canals in Scotland, in developing social enterprises on and around waterways. The event has proved to be a springboard for new ideas, new connections and the beginnings of new ways of structuring how we work on and around waterways.

Those of you who were there might have wondered what happened to all of the information added to the maps in the workshop sessions…

Our original intention was to add this information to an online map so that it could be shared and added to a 21st century plan for the waterfront in Leeds between the two museums at Armley Mills and Thwaite Mills Watermill. We decided to ditch that as a way of presenting the information because the suggestions were mostly not linked to a specific location or could be applied to the whole of the waterfront. In the end, a simple list seemed the best way to present and share the information. (Please see below).

Listing the information also helps us share the ideas offered by delegates who might not have been familiar with the waterways of Leeds, but had really valuable ideas and information to put forward on developing partnerships and setting up training initiatives.

Building the Social Economy through the Waterways – 19th March 2013

Information gathered on maps at workshop sessions

It was planned to add information gathered on maps to an online map to share. However, most of the information put forward was not specific to places on the Leeds waterfront, so we have decided to share it as a themed list of feedback instead.

Strategic Considerations
South side access to Leeds Station
Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme

Whole Waterfront Themes
Trip for the Arts Sector to explore opportunities
Celebrate former industries
Tidy up (whole water space and environs)
Signposts to destinations
Boat Clubs
Clay signage

Training Ideas
Two way street for management training and trainees
Training opportunities at Middleton and Armouries
Two way street for management training and trainees

Community Boat
Boat handling training
Skipper training
Boat masters Training
RYA Day skippers training
Office cleaning – basic office skills
Cooking and gardening
Wildlife tours
Family boat trips
Photography, pottery, spray can art, knitting and sewing - other arts and crafts
Support local community and groups with special needs
Work supporting recovering alcoholics
Minibus – transport to the canal could be an issue

Opportunities – Location based
Thwaite Mills / East Leeds waterfront        Woodworking Festival
                                                                        Fire Festival
                                                                        Spoon Festival
Leeds University Boat Club (Hunslet)
Sand barges (Hunslet/East Leeds)
Gravel transport (Hunslet/East Leeds)
Tower Works access
Raft Racing
Disused railway link to Holbeck
Armley Mills better access / security
Links to Cardigan Fields (leisure/retail park at Kirkstall)
Dunkirk Hill, Armley
Brewery Wharf – people leaving apartments
Kirkstall Valley Park plans
Knostrop Sewage Treatment Works
Boat Clubs
Clay signage

Opportunities – organisations and ideas
WYPolice                   funding from POCA (Proceeds of Crime Act)
use of police equipment – e.g. bikes
identify young people to take part in schemes
Diversionary projects to reduce anti-social behavior
Work with NEETs, improve school attendance

Yorkshire Water         Mentors
Skills – Practical/operational, project management, leadership, Networks of contractors/consultants/suppliers
Employment – training/apprenticeship/placements   
Expand “Surewater” or “Pugwash” projects

Water4Life                 water@leeds (a group of water research specialists at the University of Leeds)

Connect Housing
Cycling groups

Examples of Other Groups/Good Practice
Bedford Link Association
Bedford and Milton Keynes Partnership

Thanks to everyone who shared ideas. In terms of what happens next - how should we continue the discussions, bring potential partners together, develop plans and projects for the future and harness some of the energy in the room to work out some next steps? Please get in touch if you would like be involved.

In the meantime you may be interested in the Waterways For Growth Film:  

Monday 25 March 2013

The Value of Community Boating

Image courtesy of Yvonne Roberts, captured during the Multi-Story Water Project

I have had an extremely busy week and one of the highlights must be the NCBA AGM. This was the culmination of some hard work by a small dedicated group of people which was designed to showcase the value of community boating, generate discussion about the future and build on the successful conferences of the past.
We responded to comments that for the previous three years the conference had been held in the South. We therefore tried to make it more accessible to our Northern members and through profiling the potential of the waterways for community benefit to the non-boating sector, extend its appeal.
It was encouraging that the conference venue had been set for 100 delegates and in the morning sessions there were very few empty seats. This led to some very inspiring presentations and generated much thought for the future. It also generated conversations with boat members which constantly reinforce my belief in the value of community boating, but we keep it a closely guarded secret.
I have heard golden nuggets of stories about the effect of a single boat trip and how this has led to life changing events for both individuals and also families. I have heard how the commitment of a small, dedicated group of volunteers provide boat trips to some of our most physically challenged individuals providing respite for both them and their carers. I have particularly been struck by the number of stories involving the Olympics and how our members have been involved in activities, such as, torch carrying to more lasting involvement. I have not yet found anybody who has benefited from the Legacy which was indicated to the NCBA way back in time, however!!!
This weekend I went to the Boat Museum at Ellesmere Port and as always I was struck by the commitment and enthusiasm of volunteers in preparing for the forthcoming events of the season. No more so was this so clearly demonstrated by talking to “the youngest volunteer” on the board of the Wirral Community Narrowboat Association. He was able to show me their first boat, now sold and in private ownership, to their most recent acquisition “an all singing-all dancing” boat equipped to enable access for the physically disabled. He showed me an instrument, which enabled limbless clients to drive by using their nose!! 
Simon demonstrates how to control a boat with his nose
 Most importantly he was able to demonstrate how their organisation is responding to the potential use in supporting members of our Armed services, following their action around the World. The disturbing fact is that he is 69 years of age and was reflecting the concern so often said as to how do we involve young people.
Looking across the stern of our latest boat to "Over The Rainbow" which is in the very distance
The Log Book to record the contribution of community boating
We came away from there with another boat for Canal Connections, which will carry on providing community benefit, but more importantly we came away with a need to find a way to engage young people in the future of community boating.

Image courtesy of Yvonne Roberts, captured during the Multi-Story Water Project



Image courtesy of Yvonne Roberts, Artist In Residence

Another full day but not a boat in sight. We are not even on the water, but that very subject is central to everything we talk about.
A meeting with the Environment Agency caused amusement within the school as the subject was salmon ladders. The conversation was opened with me expressing my desire to get salmon along the River Aire as far as Skipton. The salmon can get as far as Thwaite Mills but they face barriers – the weirs have to have fish passes. 
You may be thinking: “What does that have to do with Canal Connections?”
We quickly established the relevance. The River Aire flows through the centre of Leeds and there is an abundance of opportunity for it to be a training ground for the development of so many skills to suit all abilities and interests, a leisure opportunity, plus it presents a connection to commercial, heritage and nature centres. It travels close to communities whose residents face many challenges in their everyday lives and in order for people to appreciate its value to them, they have to understand its relevance and it has to bring ‘added value’ into their lives. The conversation was very much about this.
The day finished with a seminar at the Lifelong Learning Centre at Leeds University. The subject was ‘Positive approaches to supporting families’. The speakers gave very clear and disturbing facts and case studies about the issues that people face in their every day lives. Sylvia showed how the words we use hide some harrowing facts. “Young Carers” brings the media image of young people as ‘little hero’s’. This may be true but it softens the issues and impacts on their life. A ‘dodgy maths’ formula showed how in reality they were actually contributing over £10million in social benefit. The actual cost of caring shows itself in poor educational outcomes, poor emotional health outcomes and poor family outcomes, often demonstrated through low self esteem, lack of self confidence and social isolation. 

This is nothing to do with water so what is it to do with Canal Connections?

The seminar was all about working with families as a whole and I raised the awareness of the under realised asset in the centre of Leeds – The waterway. A community boat provides an opportunity to explore innovative ways to work for social benefit – important in these times of economic recession.
Canal Connections cannot provide the answer but we want to be a part of the solution. We want to show through examples from across the country how we can make more use of assets within our midst.
Image courtesy of Yvonne Roberts, Artist In Residence
It was certainly a thought provoking day but hopefully we will open some of the barriers too.

Saturday 23 February 2013

Canal Connections Conference

The Boat Office

 Two days of working out of the ‘boat office’; introducing people to this wonderful resource on their doorstep. Very few having actually experienced the waterways, some not even realising it was so close to their communities.
The first trip was an interesting mix of people business and educational settings, showing them the countryside in the heart of the city. One of the teachers stated that he usually takes trips to the dales but here he could save time and money but still do similar activities. The business people were looking at underused properties adjacent to the navigation, linking that to education and employment.
The discussion finished with the business people asking ‘What can we do for you?” and refreshingly seeing a potential partnership for mutual benefit rather than a cap in hand for cash.
 Day 2 was entirely different. The JDI club being held on the boat and not in Moyes. The first comment from a member of the group was, “I work with young people so I look at the risks of being close to water.” The comment being reinforced by the sight and sound of the River Aire in flood going over the weir. Another member stated that you have to look at risk benefits - assessing and managing the risk and balancing that against the benefits from the activity.
The trip finished with a variety of comments but they all saw how their clients would benefit from this wonderful resource on their doorstep.

Housing: “We have young warden groups. This could bring the team together and reward them for their behavior.”
Family intervention: “What a wonderful way to get members of the family working and learning together.”
Group leaders: one working with women and the other with men but both seeing how they could link into breaking social isolation, a calming environment and the other relating it back to risk taking.

Others saw how they could link it into event management, community cohesion, inter faith and binding it all together through creative arts. Experienced practitioners alongside trainee youth workers. All this in the space of 20 minutes on a boat!!!!!

Thursday 24 January 2013

Get Out And About

Fearns Wharf

I have spent today at Fearns Wharf. The scene is beautiful but bleak. Not just because of the weather but because this is a valuable asset operating at well below its potential. 

How do we use lessons learnt elsewhere to ensure that the waterways support the social and economic recovery within our cities?

The wealth of experience within the Partnership Board is evident when they look at the region from the Tees to South Yorkshire, examining the significant issues and barriers, but also exploring the opportunities and big ideas for increasing use and engagement. We have to balance the tensions created between managing the current assets whilst looking to the future. 

On a personal level, this left me thinking:  
How does Canal Connections demonstrate that the importance of our work through the waterways is not just about the well being of the waterways but that it is also about creating vitality for the benefit of people, the majority of whom face personal challenges in their everyday lives.

How do we manage the current assets whilst looking to the future?

How do we manage aspiration? 

Wednesday 23 January 2013

Reflections: DYCA Santa Cruises!

The highlight of last year was the DYCA Santa Cruises. 
We provided 12 families with a canal experience culminating in a trip to Santa's Grotto to receive their present. They were escorted by young ambassadors (from the very first day of the Horse Boat Project). Performing Arts students dressed in a 1940’s theme to show what it would have been like in the war at Christmas. I am delighted to say that these students are now wanting to do more on the waterways.
Volunteers staffed the boats, moorers set up the grotto, cakes were baked and refreshments provided for the guests. Most rewarding was the comments, not just from the children but from the adults too:
A support worker, through her emotional tears said,He does not engage, but here he is loving the canal and smiling for a camera!
A moorer said,I have been on the canal for 9 years and this is the most wonderful community – I want to be involved.
Museum Staff, This is brilliant – to transform a shed into a grotto!
Volunteers,We should be doing this all year round!
School staff,This is the best grotto I have ever seen!
Family support worker, "What a brilliant site – we could do so much here.”

Reflections: Welcome To Thwaite Mills

Thwaite Mills is our home. We came here with signs saying “Welcome to Thwaite Mills” alongside an empty pontoon saying ‘Private – No Mooring.” 
The pontoon is now filled with 8 boats and the canal is starting to come to life. The Museum is a haven for both Heritage and Nature – connected to a similar haven at Armley Mills Industrial Museum by a heritage infrastructure. It has created the inspiration for the Heritage Canal Zone project of “Learning through the Waterways.”

Reflecting on Developments

Last year saw a mammoth development at Canal Connections which is usually indicative of a multitude meetings but we now have:
An office
An operating base
3 boats
A core of volunteers
A core of young ambassadors
Interest locally, nationally and internationally of our work
Very exciting times!

Reflections: Welcome To Moyes!

I remember meeting Alan Bolton and introducing him to the waterways. He was captured by the potential and how it could help him in his work. 
I shared my fears and he said, “You can have a space at Moyes. I’ll introduce you to the JDI club.” 
That one introduction has led to a multitude of introductions which is usually started by, “What do you do?”
I now just introduce myself as Trevor the Boat and they immediately respond, “Alan has told us all about you” and no more needs to be said. 
The Moyes is a fantastic place because it is filled with activity to support people. Organisation reps use it to share concerns and come up with solutions.
I have now joined the JDI (Just do it )club. !!

Reflecting on the Horse Boat Project

Horse Drawn: By Yvonne Roberts

I love this image. It evokes so many thoughts.
I see Sue trying to maintain the heritage and traditions of the Canal. Taking a horse drawn boat along the Leeds – Liverpool canal for the first time in 60 years. The event started in Leeds on a very wet miserable day. The event was unheralded and passed without recognition other than a very small party of hardy volunteers.
I remember my fear of coming to Leeds. I did not know anyone, I was on my own, I did not know the area, I was frightened of working on a river, I did not have an office and I did not have a boat !!!
I remember that the Horse Boat Project introduced a group of young people to the waterways. They contributed over 250 hours of activity which included cutting back saplings to prevent the horse boat snagging, learning about lock operating, learning something of the history and techniques of horse boating, filming the event, walking from Leeds to Bradford over 3 days in order to set the locks and acting as guides at World Heritage day.

Reflections of Last Year

 Image by: Yvonne Roberts, captured during the Multi-Story Water Performances at Shipley in Sept 2012

The New Year is a great time for reflection. 
And throughout January I have been doing just that – reflecting on the year gone by and making plans for the year ahead. Over the next few posts I would like to share with you some of the thoughts, feelings and ideas I have been mulling over…Please keep checking back!