Seventeen young people with a range of medical conditions and learning difficulties had a great adventure this summer aboard Waterways Experiences boats, Close Shave and Sheldrake II. They had a whirlwind of fun, made new friends and learned new skills. All this was made possible with the help of 17 fantastic volunteers and funding from three generous organisations. Tough Ten Charity Run, Prudential Insurance and The Graham Rowlandson Foundation.
Three trips went out for a week in sequence during August. The first boat took five teenage boys including Benn, a 17 year old quadriplegic who needs full personal support. Benn charmed his way into the hearts of the volunteers and his fellow travellers. Using his wheelchair and a hoist recently made specifically for our boats, he was able to participate in almost everything they did including canoeing!
The second and third trips each had six young people aboard: a mixture of girls and boys. Some had been on Enable trips before but most were new to the narrowboat experience. Quite a number had not spent more than a couple of nights away from home before.
So what did they do exactly? Well of course they did what you do on narrowboats: open locks, steer the boat, chat to people on the towpath … a bit of fishing. But that wasn’t all. When moored up they helped prepare the meals, played games, and in the evenings some singing and dancing. Great favourites were making pizzas and baking cakes, And then there were places to visit along the way: Cassiobury Rare Breeds Farm (almost a small zoo!), playing games on Cowley Park (amongst others), the swings and roundabouts at Horsenden Hill (and elsewhere), canoeing with Colne Valley Special Sailors at Rickmansworth Aquadrome, going to the cinema, eating out, playing football and frisbee, lots of bubbles, meeting Paddington at Paddington Station, swimming (at Tiddenfoot Leisure Centre, not in the canal!) and walking around Camden market.
Did you enjoy yourself? They were all asked on return. The answer was a resounding YES. I loved it gazillions say Ruby, I more than loved it said Gemma, Can I go for 100 nights next time? asked Matthew. Using his talking machine Benn was often pressing Exciting!
So happiness was achieved through boating and in a quiet way so much more as well. Feedback from the parents made it clear that that these trips had brought about changes in confidence and independent behaviour in their sons and daughters. Joe is now more willing to get himself ready and have a shower on his own. Matthew, a young man with autism, has become more ‘chilled’ – he doesn’t repeat himself so much. For Benn it has shown he can do new things.
Back at home the families were also benefitting. Some mentioned that they had managed to spend valuable quality time with their other children. One parent was able to go and visit relatives in Sri Lanka, another visited Windsor Castle and went to the theatre – the kind of thing not normally possible, and a single mum said she was able to enjoy the only week in the year she could have some much needed ‘me-time’.
All this made possible because of 17 dedicated, enthusiastic (and tired by the end) volunteers: the three inspiring leaders, Jim Burgoyne, John Bennett and Paul Worden; the three tireless skippers Marion Roberts, Dave Lee and Ian Wilson; and the patient, caring and hard-working crew, Evie Ward, Amy Knott , Roger Puddifoot, Roger Clare, Lucy Pinkstone, Katie Trotter, Emma Carver, Nathan Johnson, Tom Renphrey, Pete Holliman, Max Johnstone. What a team! We are proud that amongst these were six young volunteers who had never done anything like this before and hadn’t worked on narrowboats before. They added youthful enthusiasm to the teams and we believe we have given them a great introduction to volunteering and they are inspired to do similar good deeds again.
I am sure you can now understand why Waterways Experiences believes so strongly in arranging these Enable trips for young people with special needs. It stands at heart of our charities work but we can only do it with the commitment of our volunteers and those who are prepared to fund us.
So what about 2017? We plan on doing another 3 trips next summer and to add a 4 daytrip for 13-15 year olds in the May half-term. We don’t want to overstretch ourselves but ifwe can get the volunteers to commit we know there are at least 17 kids who want to come back!!
Waterways Experiences thank you most sincerely for your enormous generosity in providing the funds to make such a difference to these 17 young people and their families.
We hope that this summary gives you a flavour of what you have made possible.
If you have any questions you want to ask about this year’s trips or our future plans please get in touch with me. Alice Walters, Enable Co-ordinator firstname.lastname@example.org or 07970577849. And, if you know of any young person with special needs who would benefit from coming on a trip … or you know anyone, young or otherwise, who would be interested in volunteering on next year’s trips, please put them in touch with us.
Alice Walters & John Bennett