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.