Category Archives: John’s Blog

Go Fish!

Not only a popular card game on the last ENABLE of the season, but also an activity that really grabbed the attention of the young people on the trip.

We went South on our trip, down to Camden and back, stopping at all of the playing fields and playgrounds on the way, but also going into the Open Day at Cassiobury Rare Breeds Farm, over the North Circular Road (where it’s great to be in what almost feels like open country looking down on 4 lanes of traffic jam in each direction), through Regents Park and the Zoo, into Camden Market for some retail therapy and an evening meal, visiting Paddington Bear in the station of the same name and having a canoeing and kayaking session when we got back to the base. But the fishing at Springwell was what really caught their attention. We’d originally intended to fish until around 12.30, have lunch then continue along the canal. But it soon became evident that the group didn’t want to stop, so we moved lunch (and hand-washing facilities) onto the canal bank, and they carried on until Dick declared that he really had to start packing up, because of all the other commitments he had. He didn’t get away from us until just after 3.00pm. Â

As ever on an ENABLE, there were some interesting and challenging times, but the young people that lasted out the trip (one had to leave us part-way through) and the WEXP volunteers were amazing, and a fantastic time was had by all. There was serious discussion of a mutiny and pirating of the boat, to turn around and repeat the trip. The young people not only had a great time, but developed some new friendships, improved their independence and confidence and boosted their self-esteem. Thanks to the team of volunteers who helped out on the trip, Alice and Sue for the organising and paperwork, Steve at Cassiobury Farm for letting us in, Andrew at the Camden Pirates for a safe overnight mooring, Dick for bringing all the fishing gear and running the session and Ross from Hemel Canoe Club for the canoeing and kayaking at the base. And also to the young people on the trip for being the amazing people that they are.

John Bennett August 2017

Dog Overboard

Dog Overboard

The only worrying incident on an otherwise fantastic weekend with a group of Young Carers. We got together on Friday evening and soon selected the games the young people wanted for the weekend, then set off. As it was already fairly late, we only went to Kings Langley to stop and play in the playing field and playground, then evening meal, games and chat until bed. Chat and laughter didn’t stop then (what do you expect from 9-13 yr olds?) but eventually people slept – but only until around 5.30 am when the young people couldn’t contain their excitement, and got up to start again!v Two breakfasts later, we set off, to stop at Cassiobury Park and play in the newly opened Splash Pools, have a trip on the model railway and a go on the fitness equipment (with an ice-cream included somewhere in the mix) before returning to the boat to journey on (and have lunch). A visit to the Batchworth Lock Centre, and a trip to Tescos (conveniently situated on the canal side) preceded the barbeque, then a walk round the Aquadrome before some games and chat, a quick shower (8 people showered in around half an hour, on one tank of hot water) then bed. The young people settled quicker the second night, and slept until getting on for 8.00 Sunday. I wonder why?

Sunday started with a visit to NB Roger (well, after a good cooked breakfast!), where the young people were amazed and fascinated by the life and living conditions of those that worked the boats carrying cargo in the 1930s. Then came the return trip to Nash Mills (with lunch on the way, and eclairs, and an ice cream), before the young people were re-united with their families.

And the dog overboard? Walking along the gunnels, Mickey fell in. We had to reverse up and rescue him from the off-side; quite worrying, but everything came out OK. No-one could talk ‘dog’ well enough to explain to Mickey our safety procedures, or the good reasons that we have them.

Everyone had a great time, with new friendships formed, new experiences, some time to chill out and relax, try new things, learn new skills, develop new understanding of each other and themselves, and grow and blossom all whilst having a fun trip.

I can’t thank the other volunteers that helped on the trip enough – they worked hard at giving these marvellous young people a good time, and were rewarded only by thanks and smiles. And also to thank those behind the scenes with the organisation – and they don’t even get to see the young people enjoying themselves so much.

Catching a 4lb (2kg) pike on a maggot and a size 20 hook

Catching a 4lb (2kg) pike on a maggot and a size 20 hook

Just one of the many memorable events on the recent Young Teens ENABLE trip.

As the young people with learning difficulties were a bit younger than our normal groups, we ran a 4-day residential trip rather than our usual 7. Even in this short time, it was amazing to see the difference that was made to these young people, who came on the trip without their parents or carers. A great increase in their independence and self-confidence, with development of their social skills, and improvements in their self-esteem. All of them made significant improvements, as well as having a great time. 4 days on the canal, a swim at Berkhamsted pool, an organised fishing session laid on by Dick and Dave from Tring Anglers and a visit to Sunnyside Rural Trust (including feeding their chickens) added to the stoppages for playing fields made for a very enjoyable trip, as well as the chances for development.

The pike wasn’t the only fish caught. Once he was removed from the scene, fish came thick and fast. Everyone caught several, with one of the young people catching 14 in the 2 hours or so that we had. And they weren’t all small – as well as the pike, there was a decent size bream and some nice roach. In all, 7 species of fish were caught (and the almost inevitable red signal crayfish); perch, chub, bleak and gudgeon along with the pike, roach and bream. Many thanks, Dick and Dave. Getting fishing gear for so many people to us was no mean effort, and you thoroughly earned your fish and chip supper.

Thanks are also due to the fantastic team of volunteers from WEXP that looked after these young people – four of them new to ENABLE, but all rose to the occasion and did an amazing job. Good news for the young people, as it made their trip so worthwhile, and for me as the leader, as a team that pull together make the trip so much better.

The set of pictures that we took on the trip were looked at and discussed at the end, with the young people full of what they’d done and achieved. And it sounded as though the parents had had a good break as well – almost as important as the development of the young people.

Young Carer Weekend, 5-7th May 2017

On Friday 5th May, six girls and two boys aged between 9 and 12 years old joined us aboard Close Shave for what we hoped would be a great weekend, and a great weekend it was! After the safety talk and introductions, that evening we took a short trip through a few locks, mooring at Hunton Bridge for the night.
The kids were helping out at the locks and the helm straight away, and that allowed us some time to get to know each other. We had games all prepared for the group to play after dinner, but they all congregated at the one end of the boat, and spent the evening chatting and bonding. Once they were told it was time to wind down and get to bed, they immediately did so, and we didn’t hear another peep out of them until morning!
Woken up by the ducks quacking away, we had a lovely cooked breakfast, and we set off on our way. We headed off to Cassiobury Park, here we went on a train ride, and they had some free time in the park before heading off again to Rickmansworth Aquadrome. Here we took out double canoes on the water for an hour, and then had delicious ice creams. After dinner, we went back to the Aquadrome to play some outdoor games. When back on the boat, the group spent their evening chatting again, and having fun. Sadly we had
to say goodbye to one of the girls on the Saturday evening, but I’m hopeful she enjoyed the time she spent on the boat and the friends she made. On Sunday we had a swimming session booked for the morning at a local leisure centre. After an hour of splashing about, and more fun for the group, we then had to make our way back to the boat base. It was a beautiful sunny day, and perfect for the group to relax and enjoy themselves.
Disaster struck towards the end of the trip, when one of the group dropped their phone in the canal, and by some miracle, we managed to retrieve it from the bottom of the canal, and it still worked! Once back at base, we all said our goodbyes, and some of the group swapped phone numbers.
Over the weekend, some of the kids wanted to help out at all the locks, some wanted to just relax or chat, some played games and did colouring, and they all enjoyed blowing bubbles! But however they sent their time, it was spent with enjoyment. To give these special kids a weekend to remember, a new experience, and a couple of days to relax, away from the difficulties they face in their everyday lives. I hope they will take away
fond memories of their time on the boat, and have made some lasting friendships. I am so proud of them, and to have spent the weekend with such an inspirational group of young people.
Davina Lines, May 2017

I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles

Two Young Carers had to drop out at very short notice, but the other 4 teenage girls and two teenage boys joined us on the Friday evening for a weekend away on the canal. We only had a short trip on the Friday evening, but then on Saturday went down to Cassio Rare Breeds Farm then on to Rickmansworth for the night. On Sunday we visited the Rickmansworth Waterways Trust, including a visit to their historic boat Roger before returning to base.

The group were all strangers to each other when they met on the Friday, and started off very quiet and withdrawn. Conversations soon started to flow, though, and before long they were chatting quietly to each other. By around 10.30pm, they were chatting and laughing away. Round about 2am they were still going strong, and continued to do so for some time afterwards. We felt that they needed this break, and that it was their weekend, so we didn’t stop them. Fortunately, by Saturday evening, they were a good deal more tired, and went to their beds soon after 11.00pm.

They all had a go at working locks, and soon learned what to do, and everyone that we could cajole into doing so had a go at steering. Otherwise, there was lots of chat, music, games, ….. and, of course, bubbles. As ever, the squirrel monkeys, meercats and other animals were memorable, and they were amazed (and rather appalled) at living condition on a working narrowboat in the 1930’s. By the end of the weekend, they were firm friends, and swapped contact details so that they could keep in touch. There were lots of good comments from the young people at the end of the trip, and I felt privileged to be able to give these fantastic young people a bit of a different experience and some time away to chill and chat.

John Bennett April 2017

Woolly Hats and Sunglasses

Getting Sheldrake III back from Winkwell

As we gathered in the pre-dawn frost, we wondered just what we were doing there. Had we really volunteered for this?

As Sheldrake III had been taken up to dry dock to have the bow thrusters fixed, it needed to be brought back to base ready for further trips. This means getting up to Winkwell before 08.00, to get our boat out so that someone else’s could get in with time to drain down the dock and start work on it. Hence the early start. The canal was frozen, with around an inch of ice on it. To reverse the boat out of dry dock, we had to break the ice behind us with poles and shafts before we could be pulled out. Getting the boat round meant further ice-breaking, even with the engine. The lock gates wouldn’t fully open because of the ice, and progress was slow, but with an amazing sound (especially when inside the boat). Manoeuvring became more interesting; the boat steers by moving the back across the water and a layer of ice stops this happening. With our Chairman Rick’s words ringing in our ears, we dare not bump the boat, and so had to do some careful work with the engine and gears – we didn’t want to use the newly repaired bow thrusters for fear of ice chunks getting into the impeller tubes and breaking the blades. However, we managed to make good progress without bumps.

The only way that I thought that I’d be able to make the crew feel OK about the early start and freezing conditions was to bribe them with bacon butties – with mugs of tea, it seemed to work. As the sun rose higher, the sunglasses came out – we were going directly into the sun, and a low sun with glare on the water meant that we really needed them. Having been in dry dock, the boat was in need of a good clean, so we set to with a will. It wasn’t as bad as it has been in the past, so the group of us got it done between locks.

As ever when we go by, there were a number of people that stopped to watch – even more so, I think, as we pushed aside the ice, and the cracking and ‘pinging’ sound announced our progress some time before we got there. The smell of frying bacon may have helped as well. More discussions with passers-by at locks – our boats and crews really are our best advert, and a great way to spread the word about who we are and what we do.

We got back to base, cleared the boat, refilled the water tank (by running a hose from the Visitor Centre – the canalside taps were frozen) and retrieved the cars from Winkwell, all in time to get home for lunch. An interesting trip – some of the crew had not boated through ice before, and were unaware of the extra problems caused by this. Handling ropes is a bit different if the rope is frozen into an unbending rod with a solid coil on the end. Although cold, it’s great on the water in this weather if you wrap up warm – and the heating keeps the inside of the boat nice and cosy.

Thanks to Dave Lee, Peter Holliman, Brian Johnston, Mike Vickery and Andrew Murray for their hard work and good cheer.

Practice makes ………

October, 2016

Practice makes ………

Now that bookings are getting a little less frenetic, Uncle Rick (aka ‘Our Glorious Leader’) has told us that we must ‘practice, practice practice’. This isn’t how it really happens, but it make a good story,so I’m not going to change it.

Along with Linda (a relative newbie), Dave and Andrew (a couple of skippers), I embarked for a day’s experience sharing on a sunny day near the end of October. Linda had not done much boat handling before – we soon changed that! And as soon as we saw Fred coming down in a wheelchair, we knew what to expect. He doesn’t say much, but does have a habit of getting wet several times every trip he’s on. We also decided that we ought to try to clear some of the overhanging vegetation whilst we were out.

A couple of hours later, we’d got to Apsley and part way back, clearing overhanging vegetation from the approach to the white bridge from both directions. To give her extra boat handling practice, Linda did all of the steering, and the men worked the locks – a reverse of the usual pattern seen on the canal, when the men claim that their accompanying females would rather do the heavy work than steer the boat. As there was a boat filling with water in the lock before turning to return down, we decided it was lunchtime, so Linda reversed around 100m to the nearest mooring point. Dave \had prepared a marvellous repast, so we ate well before setting off again.

Fred went for his first swim in the lock by the Red Lion, then again shortly after we winded in ‘the wide’. Linda managed the 180 0 turn in one move without reverse – Dave and Andrew had never attempted this themselves before, or seen anyone else do it. Linda was chuffed with the move, and all others were impressed. More tree trimming by the Railway Bridge made the time race by, and we returned to base well satisfied with our day on the water. Linda felt much happier about boat handling, we’d learned quite a bit about rescuing people from the water, and got rid of some awkward vegetation – boatmasters will have to find another excuse for hitting the White Bridge, and the approach to the Railway Bridge from the South is now much less obstructed. All had a great time, and felt that they had learned from the day.

Thanks to Linda, Dave and Andrew for a great day on the water, and especially to Dave

Dave for lunch; in Linda’s words, ‘the spag bol was to die for!’

John Bennett



Enable Canal Adventures

September, 2016

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 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

Young Carers Weekend

September, 2016

I’ve just got home from leading a weekend on the boats for a group of Young Carers. What a fantastic group of youngsters!

We met up on Friday evening, and soon set out towards King’s Langley. There wasn’t much daylight left, so we only got as far as the playing field, but this gave us the chance to go and play on the swings and roundabouts, and play around on the field. The fact that it was getting dark made it more fun rather than less!

Everyone managed to get some sleep, despite the atmosphere in the Young Carer’s end of the boat being a bit like a ‘sleep-over’, and all were up fairly bright and early on Saturday morning. Along to Cassiobury Park for more games, then a visit to Cassiobury Rare Breeds Farm – much enjoyed by all. Then boating on down to Rickmansworth Aquadrome, (for an evening walk in the dark) and an early night – the Young Carers took themselves off to bed before 10.00.

Sunday morning saw us on a visit to Rickmansworth Waterways Trust, where it was incredible to see how the boaters used to live whilst carrying the raw materials and goods for the start of the Industrial Revolution. Then the return trip to Hemel.

Travelling on the boat was much enhanced by cards, Articulate, Connect 4, music, dance, chat and watching the world go by. There was a constant lively buzz of fun and enjoyment, with frequent laughter and merriment.

As ever on a Waterways Experiences run trip, we ate extremely well – cooked breakfasts, snack lunches and substantial evening meals, enhanced with cake, biscuits and fruit at regular intervals.

It was a pleasure to help out on this trip with such an amazing group of young people. Many thanks to Marion Roberts, Jim Burgoyne and Brian Johnston for their help on the trip, and to Alice Walters for getting it all organised. Many thanks to the Graham Rowlandson Trust for funding the trip. And a really big heartfelt thanks too to the Young Carers that came on the trip – you really made it a great weekend, and I’m glad that you had such a good time.

John Bennett