The Inland Waterways Association were holding a boat gathering at Thwaite Mills as part of the Leeds Waterfront Festival. They approached the N.C.B.A. to be a part of the gathering. It was an ideal opportunity to respond to the membership – “ you do not do anything up North” -, “we used to have regional meetings” -, “we want to network”.
An invitation was put out and was met by a resounding silence but I decided to respond to the invitation and I spent an extremely pleasant weekend at a wonderful industrial museum at the side of the Navigation.
It gave me time to reflect on some of the events of the week. A number of Directors had met to discuss finance but the discussion led more to “what is the role of the N.C.B.A.” – is it a membership organisation and we only represent the membership or do we promote the value of community boating as not everyone is a member of the NC.B.A.
An impressive site was two of the flagship projects passing. They have been delivering a valued community service for over 40 years between them. I took the time to talk with them and they confirmed that they had been coming to Leeds for years to support the Waterfront festival and were not here as a result of the invitation. Two projects with similar aims but a different way of delivering the service.
Safe Anchor had brought 4 boats to Thwaite Mills and provided free boat trips for over 1000 people throughout the week-end, I am not sure whether the queue was longer for the trips or the food and drinks they also provided for the 3000 visitors to the festival. Either way it was all carried out by volunteers. I took a trip on their new fully accessable boat and Mike took great pride in telling me they had saved £60,000 by their volunteers carrying out the work.
Sobriety had brought one of their boats from the Yorkshire Waterways Museum to Clarence Dock for the festival but stopped at Thwaite Mills on their way back. They had used the trip from Goole as part of their work with some of the more “challenging” young people they deal with on a daily basis. I spoke to one of the volunteers whose main comment was he had only just joined Sobriety and he was more used to the Oxford narrowboat group he used to be with. I spoke to Pat, the skipper. He gave the appearance of being a ‘rough diamond’ but took great pride in telling me of the assistance he had received from the group. 17 yr old Luke had come into the wheelhouse and took over the steering of Sobriety for about 10 miles as he ate the meal prepared by the young crew. The young people were extremely respectful and told me of the valuable support they received from the project Pat himself spoke highly of how his voluntary work had now led to paid sessional work as a skipper.
The NC.B.A. banner was proudly displayed on the boat of our newest member project. We received various comments about the ‘Merlot’ as it wasn’t a traditional community boat but it has already provided access to families to the waterways –enabling us to work with them as a family unit. We were dwarfed by the Humber keel moored alongside us. I spoke to their crew and I was proudly told “we are a charity”. They provide a marvellour opportunity of enabling people to experience the keel whilst also maintaining the heritage of this wonderful craft. Not a N.C.B.A. member but surely a wonderful example of community boating.
At the end of the week end I spoke with Elaine who had organised the event, She also had not received the response she had hoped for and we were both asking ourselves –was it worth it? We did not raise any money but we had certainly raised the profile of our organisations, our aims and most importantly in our discussions a number of people had recognised they had this wonderful asset on their doorstep.
We left with a sense of optimism. The heritage of our waterways must be maintained and respected. We must build on the success of this weekend for next year. The I.W.A. and N.C.B.A. must have a closer relationship in order to do that.
Trevor Roberts. (Chairman)