As a teenager with behavioural problems, Heidi Siggers was taken on a community boat trip to London. She went off exploring, got lost in London, and stayed out until midnight. During the holiday the young people on board enjoyed pushing each other into Camden locks, and buying cigarettes and whisky. Eventually the trip organisers had to threaten to send all of the teenagers home.
So what did Heidi do next?
What did I do? I went to a joke shop and bought a plastic human poo, placed it on the toilet floor with a bit of water over it and waited. Ten minutes later I heard what can only be described as a roar from Baz the boat man. He called us all in and told us that this was the last straw and that we needed to go and pack our things. I bent down and picked up the offending item and placed it in my top pocket. Baz stood there staring at me for what seemed an eternity. Then I saw a smile… followed by raucous laughter! I’d never been so relieved in all my life!
Humility and patience
The next day Tony’s dog Jacko decided he was going home, so we had to moor up for the day while Tony chased him up the tow path for miles. I learnt so much humility and patience from those boat men and those trips. It taught me to respect other peoples space, to slow down (there’s no rushing a narrow boat!), and to work with others whilst locking, mooring and cooking. The boat men were both such patient, uncomplicated people, they suited the jobs they had to a T.
I lived on my first boat for 6 years after that trip, with my eldest daughter who is now 24. One time I met Baz and Tony at Tony s lock cottage near Rugby. They remembered me well and recalled the London trip with fond memories.
I went on to do an Art degree as a lone parent. I started it when my daughter was 4 and I ended up working with young people with behavioural problems through education, art and outreaching for 17 years after that.
Sadly the school boats went in the 1990’s as part of the council cuts. I travelled for a while, and lived in the UK and Spain in various houses before settling down in our present narrowboat home. I now live with my partner and our youngest children aged 4 and 6. Lucky 13 is a 70ft 28 year old Coalcraft boat that we’ve been restoring and continuously cruising in for 6 years. We’ve recently taken a towpath mooring in Marsworth, Hertfordshire.
Boats would become my future
Those boat trips introduced me to another world that would become my future. The boats and canals have played a huge part in my life for 33 years now. The boat men on that trip were a huge influence on my decision to work with troubled young people, especially when the boats were stopped and other facilities for young people were being withdrawn from Coventry.
I retrained as a specialist young parent and child outreach before having my son. I’m now a full time marine mum and artist. I would love to put my experience of boats and young people together one day and work with children and boats. These boats are invaluable for children experiencing social or emotional difficulties. They give them an opportunity to make friends, to work as a team, and to experience something totally different. It gives them space, happiness and a break from their everyday lives. It gives them independence, self-reliance, trust and many more things. It is even more important for children from socially deprived inner city areas.
In my case they gave me a different view of the world and gave me a lifelong interest in the canal system and history. I love nothing more than moving our boat. It’s hard work alone but I love taking it through locks – and even reversing isn’t so bad anymore!
And lastly, I gained confidence. I came away far more confident than when I went!
The NCBA offers a variety of training courses for those interested in changing young people’s lives with community boating.
Are you someone who has benefited from community boating? We would love to feature your story on our blog. Get in touch.