A Positive Experience on the Waterways – Towpath Talk, November 2015

The diversity of the NCBA can be again demonstrated in this article from one of our members based on Merseyside.

The Wirral Community Narrowboat Trust (WCNT) was first founded in 1984 as the Wirral Narrowboat Association and is an all volunteer registered charity which celebrated its 30th anniversary year in 2014.  Our aims are “To seek to improve the quality of life for people who by virtue of age, infirmity, physical disability, mental disorder or social factors are disadvantaged or deprived.   To make provision for the recreational, educational and social needs of the said people. To provide an experience outside of the normal environment; which is therapeutic and brings respite to Carers.  We also aim to deliver our Narrowboat service to a professional standard, subscribing to a national Code of Conduct for community boats”

Trips are provided throughout the year on two fully wheelchair friendly/fully adapted narrowboats.  Our two Narrowboats have been fully funded by our Trust, and built to our own specific requirements to provide amenities suitable for the needs of disabled users. There is full wheelchair access throughout both boats; each has a wet room shower, toilet and wash basin and central heating. The galleys have a fridge and full cooking facilities. Both boats have heavy duty lifts to enable electric wheelchair access into the boat plus loading ramps. We offer day trips on both boats for up to a maximum of 12 passengers and residential trips on one boat for up to a maximum of 10 passengers.

Wirral Community Narrowboat Trust is a member of the NCBA and our boats are crewed by NCBA trained Skippers and Crew.  We have several volunteers who have successfully undertaken the NCBA’s Trainers’ certificate and are accredited national trainers who concentrate their time and effort in training our volunteers.  The Trust is highly conscious of its responsibility towards the safety of canal use and, to that end, training is an ongoing theme in the Trust’s operations.  WCNT is an accredited NCBA training centre and offers training to other organisations. All our volunteers are D.B.S. accredited.

The WCNT is staffed by 106 volunteers who provide the various skills required to offer approximately 300 sailing trips per year between April 1st and October 31st carrying around 3000 passengers.

One of our boats was chosen to carry the Paralympic Flame into the National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port in 2012.  In 2014 Wirral Community Narrowboat Trust was the national winner of the ‘Living Waterways Award’ for community and volunteering.

WCNT has forged links over the years with many local organisations.  Local companies, trusts, Rotary, Round Table and Lions clubs regularly make donations to enable us to take out local special schools and groups.  We have links with local authorities who liaise with us regarding taking out groups.  We have links with a local children’s hospice and they call on us whenever they have a child/children or family that would like a narrowboat trip.

Our two boats operate mostly on the Shropshire Union Canal.  We operate some trips on the Bridgewater Canal and also the Trent and Mersey Canal with trips via The Anderton Lift down onto the River Weaver.  Our trips have proved very popular and many of our clients, mostly senior citizens, special needs schools, youth groups and disabled persons, return, year after year, to enjoy the peaceful tranquility of the canals, the countryside and the wildlife.  The groups we take out come from all over Merseyside, Wirral and Cheshire including some from north Wales.

Activities include taking disabled people and vulnerable groups, some of whom may be in wheelchairs, on the narrowboat and giving them the opportunity to participate in travel along, and access to, the canal network and countryside to which they would otherwise be denied accessibility.   The narrowboats provide access for both young and old disabled people to enjoy the beauty of rural environments.

Our custom built narrowboats remove one of those barriers by enabling full inclusion in accessing the canal network and countryside.  Inclusion helps to make stronger community groups and healthier people as they enjoy the fresh air and a positive group experience.

We constantly aim to keep a strong profile locally and regionally; we have a steady flow of new member volunteers joining our Trust and we hope to maintain the good work that we do for many more years.

…And finally, in 2012 we played host to BBC’s Mr Tumble and a full television production team when they came to film a trip we provided for 2 disabled children. The programme was later broadcast nationwide as part of the Something Special series on CBeebies and is frequently repeated.  It gave us a lot of street cred amongst the children we take out.

About the Author:

Derek Stansfield

Chair of National Training Committee, Advisor & Senior Trainer (North East)

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