Wednesday 21 December 2011

Waterways chaplains to help boaters!

About once a month I take our boat to a marina to top up on diesel and empty the toilet. For her own safety my toddler daughter is sat on the hatch cover and secured to the roof with a safety harness while we cruise.

As we pass under a bridge we see the first of the moored boats that line the waterway up to Cowroast lock and I steer towards the bank. Two gentlemen in matching black jackets are on the towpath smiling at the sight of my daughter on the roof. As we approach I can see that they want to help me moor up so I throw them a rope. One of them is carrying a windlass and their jackets are labelled, 'Waterways Chaplain.' I've lived on the Cut for eleven years and I've never heard of a Waterways Chaplain! These jolly gentlemen are from the Salvation Army and roam the towpath helping people in whatever way they can.
“There are people with problems on the canal; drugs and alcohol. We can provide a listening ear or help with practical things like access to healthcare.”
One holds the mid-rope, another helps me to bash a peg in to the ground.

The waterways ministry was stopped in the 1960s but is being revived as part of a Workplace Ministries project in the Diocese of St Albans. They offer pastoral and practical support for live-aboard boaters in need, providing food, clothing, water, benefits advice or just a listening ear. They have even been known to provide water when taps are frozen in winter, a new chimney, a new battery or comfort to a lonely live-aboard widow.

The Salvation Army waterways ministry first began in 1908 around Fenny Stratford, praying with and talking to working boatmen and their families in their narrow boat cabins. In 2012 more volunteers will be needed as they ultimately aim to cover the Grand Union from Braunston down to Rickmansworth and also the rivers Lee and the Stort.

There is also the Boaters Christian Fellowship who have several mission boats on the canal and hold services at boat festivals. BCF encourages fellowship through chance and planned meetings whilst on the waterways.

I tell them we're headed to Cowroast boat yard and they say that it's under new management. My little one presents one chaplain with her huge cuddly Peppa Pig, and then gives the other one her used tissue.

They wander on up the towpath and we head in to the warmth of the boat for a spaghetti lunch.

If the build up to Christmas has re-ignited your community spirit perhaps you could help?

Volunteers are provided with advice and training, a jacket identifying them as a waterways chaplain and a windlass. If you'd like to to adopt a stretch of towpath or river and commit to walking at least once a week contact Captain Jenny Dibsdall Twitter: @Waterchaplain

Disclosure: I wrote this post for Boatshed Grand Union

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Boat Safety Scheme said...

Can the volunteers please also help with the practical messages of fire and carbon monoxide safety.

Those with drug, alcohol or other difficulties are often the people most at risk.

Most people who have died in boat fires and carbon monoxide poisonings in the last 10 years have been people living on boats.

Of those is a significant number of the 'hard to reach' demographics.

see our Stay Safe website for more advice Boat Safety Scheme -