Monday 15 April 2013

Boat family told to cruise further... or else!

Boat cats
This guest post is from a local boat-mum that I know and was written during the recent Canal and River Trust mooring consultation. I am pleased to say that since this was written the boating community have had constructive meetings with the Canal and River Trust discussing affordable moorings and various other solutions. We are continuing to meet with them and the original mooring proposals for Berkhamsted have been amended.

I sometimes get questions from my readers about the reality of family life on board, and also questions about the perceived 'problem' of continuous cruisers. 

I hope this gives readers an insight into the lives of the ordinary families that live on board. 

Living on a narrowboat in Berkhamsted

We live on our 70ft narrow boat with our two children and two cats. The Canal and River Trust CRT (formerly British Waterways) are saying if we don't move further than we are every 14 days they will take our licence (which we pay a £1000 a year for) and make us homeless by refusing us a licence and eventually taking our home as it would become an unlicensed craft.  
We move at present between Berkhamsted and Cow Roast because the children go to nursery and school here and I help to run a playgroup in Berkhamsted.  
We own and live in our 25 year old Coal craft boat that we have been restoring for the last 5 years. 
I have an Art & Craft degree, am a qualified teacher and have spent the last 15 years as a specialist children's worker,  with special needs children, damaged children, children from travelling back grounds and homeless families mainly through education and awareness, I know ironic isn't it? 
I have taken a career break to care for our youngest children until they are both in full time education, my eldest child is a Police officer, my partner was a Professional Boxer for 9 years and now works as a self employed waterproof specialist to support his family and pay Tax.                        
I just cannot comprehend the mentality of these narrow minded bureaucrats, they seem to have no compassion or thought for the families they harass or the stress they cause or the wider social implications on the rest of society their actions will have. 
At the moment we live in our own home, we have never had the Police called or caused trouble, we are clean and tidy we abide by the law our children go to school, we are well educated people and very much active members of our local society and are keen conservationist, which is why we have chosen boating as a lifestyle and why  we have only one car which my partner uses for work (when alternative transport is not an option) and the children and me cycle or walk everywhere we go.
The Canal and River Trust are proposing to evict us at great cost to the tax payer and other licence paying boaters, they are willing to up root us and cause immense distress to our young children (who would lose their home and have to move nursery and school) us and our wider family and cause us to lose most of our possessions. 
The CRT are threatening to make a family with two young children age 3 and 5 homeless for the sake of us not moving a bit further every 14 days. If this happens the local Council will then have to re home us, firstly in a hostel then in a flat or house,  a home that we don't want or need, that another family in genuine need of a home could have thus displacing or moving genuinely needy people further back on the list of the already desperately inadequate Social housing situation, all of this because we can't move an extra few miles every two weeks.
There are many unlicensed and abandoned boats throughout the inland waterways that are literally rotting away in the water causing environmental damage as they go, the CRT don't bother to remove these boats as that would cost them money and not make any so the reasons quoted by the CRT for moving on genuine live a board licence payers is pure hypocrisy,  just nothing more than thoughtless corporate bullying that needs to be challenged and stopped.  The CRT are not offering any solutions to the mooring problem, just creating more problems with proposals such as the ones in Berkhamsted which, if they come in to effect will see less 14 day moorings than before and take away the boats that the Canal was specifically built for in the 1700s and has ever since then been a place of work and homes for many families and individuals and allow the CRT to fine boaters for overstay so forcing people to move further.   Live aboards are not generally as "pretty" as summer or holiday boats, what they are peoples homes, peoples lives, not a glossy plastic theme park or a row of identical terraced houses.We can understand the need for some boats to move every 14 days in the summer in busy boating areas but why move boats on in the middle of Northchurch, Dudswell or Cowroast even when there are no other boats for weeks at a time, or in the winter when the summer boats don't run?  Why not make places like these in to Tow path moorings? 
We would love a mooring, it would make our lives so much easier but the reality is there simply aren't enough moorings available. There are no fulltime moorings in Berkhamsted at all and very few affordable moorings generally, only winter moorings.  The only alternatives we have are to register as travellers with the local education authority so that we can place our children with two or more different schools and not be prosecuted when we are forced to take them out of school while we travel further, (we also then as travellers will be classed as an ethnic minority) or we could remove our children from their present school education and home educate which would mean them loosing their friends and local connections and making us a lot less connected to the rest of Society than we presently are and effectively more isolated and outcast. There are many more articulate, hard working boat families like ours that are being made to feel like criminals when all we have done is chosen to live an alternative life style.   We didn't choose to be victims of prejudice, discrimination and exclusion, we don't want to be forced under threat of homelessness or fines to undertake much longer journeys, the effect of which will make it extremely difficult or impossible for us as a boat family  to maintain contact with our local communities for work, education, socialisation  and health-care. 
Like I said we would gladly take a mooring if there actually were any.  If anyone on here is a land owner or knows of any Canal side land owners between Berkhamstead and Cow roast willing to rent land to us so we can have a home mooring then please get in touch.

This article first appeared on Berkhamsted People and is reprinted here with kind permission from the author. 
You may also like this article: The long road 

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