A Touch of Magic for Vulnerable Groups – Towpath Talk, June 2016

Derek Stansfield, director of training for the NCBA, continues his series of articles illustrating the diversity of the NCBA. Over the next two issues he’ll look at the work of long-standing member, the Ethel Trust.

The Ethel Trust is a Sheffield-based charity established in 1988, providing education, leisure and tonic, with a touch of magic to marginalised and vulnerable groups, by running day and residential outings on its community barge Ethel.Three part-time staff are employed along with seven sessional skippers; however, the majority of service is delivered by 32 locally based volunteers who come with a myriad of skills and experience.

Ethel was built in 1993 as a prestigious purpose-built 57ft wide-beam canal barge, fitted out with disabled toilets and shower, a functional galley and fully accessible seating and sleeping facilities.  She has safety rails throughout and hydraulic lifts fore and aft, making her accessible by people who use wheelchairs, or have mobility problems. Lifts enable all users who are able, to participate in the learning and leisure activities below, as well as above deck during their trip.

The business is managed by National Community Boat Association qualified, DBS-checked skippers and volunteer crew and the trips are normally offered to groups of up to 12 people.

The Ethel Trust’s flagship ‘un-Locking Confidence Afloat’ project, fully funded by generous donations from up to 30 grant funders, provides a wonderful free of charge, waterborne educational, vocational and recreational day or residential experience for learning-disabled children, young people and young adults who often have a combination of physical disability and mental health problems.

They chose to work with these disadvantaged youngsters by delivering one- and three-day entry level one ASDAN (Award Scheme Development and Accreditation Network) accredited residential teamwork and boat handling courses, because they often miss out on the social, mental and physical stimulation of outdoor activity, especially when it is connected to the waterways.

Confidence building

Giving these young guys the chance to be involved in a very practical way is uplifting, enhances the prospect of learning and skills development, and can visibly lead to confidence-building through adventure and discovery.

A written comment from Dave Roe, Youth Association South Yorkshire training and development manager, summarises the impact that this project is having on young lives in the local disabled community: “We have been working with the Ethel barge for almost two years.

Ethel on the water

“Our relationship is one of accreditation and external moderation… the trust has achieved a relatively high impact with special needs young people, comparative with the local authority and other community based organisations …in this area the Ethel barge is a major influence in the development of young people’s lives.”

The Ethel Trust works with young people on the South Yorkshire waterways and has identified a real need for its service.  Laura Kay, a teacher at Nether Green Junior and Infants, Sheffield, said: “This was a fabulous day out. All children tried something new and enjoyed themselves.

“The barge is such a good experience especially for children with autism, it is very calming. The crew are amazing, so calm and helpful… the Ethelbarge really is special.”

Cheryl Ridge, youth work manager with Sheffield Futures, commented: “The Ethel experience is one that every disabled person should get the opportunity to do. While there is funding available to help cut the cost of these residential courses, then more and more people will get the chance.”

Between October 2014 and September 2015 Ethel Trust delivered 70 free day trips to a total of 394 young people between the ages of four and 24 years. In that same period they managed 10 three-day, entry level, ASDAN-accredited residential courses to 55 young people between the ages of 10 and 24 years.

This year’s un-Locking Confidence Afloat project started from Rotherham town centre on February 22 and so far the team has delivered free of charge day trips to 305 special needs children, young people and young adults on 51 fantastic and fun day trips.

The prelude to its summer activity, run from Thorne where as well as providing subsidised day trips for vulnerable and mariginalised adult groups, the team is delivering 10 three-day ASDAN-accredited residential courses for special needs young people.

A final comment from one of their friends and sponsors, Lesley Wainwright, Charities Team, Gripple Ltd: “The un-Locking Confidence Afloat really is a wonderful project and it’s very obvious to us just how life-changing this is for the youngsters.”

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