Tired of life in the fast lane? A community group offers life at four miles per hour. Emma Dawkins, a director of All Aboard Manchester, speaks to Deborah Grace.
All Aboard is a group of five parents who were regular users of Trafford Council’s Openlock Project, which offered residential canal trips and experiences to young people who might not otherwise have had that opportunity.
When the project came to an end earlier this year, the group made a successful bid for Prince Henry, one of its fully-equipped narrowboats. Moored at Stretford Marina on the Bridgewater Canal, Henry is now available for use by the local community.
“We offer days out, school trips, workshops and other activities, such as parties, craft cruises and family fun days,” says Emma. “Walking along the canal, you may have peeped through a window and wondered how it might feel to be on a real narrowboat. For us, it’s all about bringing that experience to life. And once you’ve done it, you’ll be hooked!
“I grew up in a small family and we enjoyed many canal holidays. We’d hire a boat for a week and explore the Midlands, the South of England and up into Wales. For me, as a teenager, it was a lovely way to relax and enjoy quality, family time. We’d cook together on the boat, sleep in close quarters and I got to see some fantastic places.
Now I have two daughters, aged 12 and nine: both are autistic and love being on the boat. It’s a great way for them to relax with friends. My younger daughter loves feeding the ducks and geese and just pottering around the canals.
“Being on the canal allows you to slow down and take a break from modern life and technologies. It’s all about looking at the scenery, talking to people and re-establishing relationships in a different way. It’s about sharing an experience that’s a little bit different. I’m learning how to skipper and drive the boat, and seeing Manchester by canal gives you a whole different perspective. I’m learning about our city and its history in a way I hadn’t understood before.”
All Aboard is a not-for-profit organisation, run by volunteers, and while there’s a charge for most activities, any surplus is invested back into the project.
“Our recent open day gave people the chance to come aboard and enjoy a variety of activities, from children’s story-telling and mosaic-making to meditation and relaxation. In three years’ time, Prince Henry will pass into our ownership and we would love to continue the project. In the meantime, we’re planning more family activities and we’re also looking at more commercial interests, such as hiring the boat out as a team-building resource to local businesses. If there’s anything we can do to benefit local community projects, we’d love to hear from organisers.
“One of my dreams for retirement is to live on a narrowboat. I’d like to go back to North Wales; there are some beautiful canals there. But I’m hoping that with Henry we might be able to extend our reach a bit and explore more of the canals of the North West of England. Who knows where we might go?”