Ahoy There!

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?”


Homelessness in South Manchester

Life without running water, sanitation, heating, washing or cooking facilities is not something that anyone should experience in the 21st century.

Life on the streets is also dangerous and harmful to health. Average life expectancy in Manchester is 79 for men and 83 for women: for rough sleepers, it’s 47 for men and just 43 for women.

Homelessness is a growing problem in Manchester. We’ve seen an increasing number of people street begging and sleeping rough – including in tents – which has caused concern among residents, businesses and visitors alike. It’s a complex issue, however, and working with rough sleepers can be a long process. Not everyone that you see on Manchester’s streets is unsupported:

  • Some rough sleepers need ongoing support to move them away from the streets. This can take time; a lot of work is often being done behind the scenes by the council, health and voluntary services.
  • Some rough sleepers have been offered accommodation or other support many times, but have been unwilling, or unable, to take that help.
  • Some are street beggars who already have accommodation elsewhere. This may be the case for a number of people who beg in South Manchester.

The best way to help is to encourage people who are street begging and/or sleeping rough to access long-term support. The city has come together under the Manchester Homelessness Partnership to tackle the challenge.

Stephanie Moore and Becky Elliott run Chorlton’s Reach Out to the Community: “We’re one of several organisations in the partnership that offers very practical and direct help, from arranging medical appointments to supplying food, clothes or travel costs. In common with the City Council and other agencies, we ask that you don’t give money to homeless people directly: it really doesn’t help them. By doing so, you’re incentivising begging and possibly enabling an addiction.”

Here’s how you can make a difference:

  • Work with local groups like Reach Out to the Community
  • Become part of the Manchester Homelessness Partnership by signing the Manchester Homelessness Charter and making a pledge;
  • Donate to Big Change – a partnership fundraising campaign across Manchester. Find out what really helps people to get off the streets, rather than sustaining them there.

“Homeless people deserve better lives, away from the streets,” says Stephanie. “They need support, respect and encouragement to engage with the help that’s available – and that help is definitely out there.”

Find out more by visiting the Street Support Network.