Community support

Funding level: £5,001 to £10,000


The newspaper headlines are often full of stories of the homeless on our streets but rarely do you hear about the vulnerable and marginalised who use our 2,000 miles of inland waterways and canals.

The Waterways Chaplaincy vision is to be “a catalyst in the waterways communities to bring about short and long-term transformation in people’s lives”. Over the last 20 years there has been a 37% increase in the number of those living on the canals. Many are there because it’s cheaper, have low or no income, have mental health issues, family breakdown or for a less stressful way of living. Their personal problems are compounded, because many have no permanent address and only have continuous cruiser licenses. This means that simple activities like visiting the doctor, using foodbanks, obtaining benefits and even visiting family becomes a challenge. Without the normal framework of local community and support services they fall through the gaps. Their needs are then in danger of becoming more complex, costing more to local services and impacting on their wellbeing. Without support in some cases they become suicidal. Having waterways chaplains patrolling the canal banks problems can be picked up before they escalate.

We work closely with the Canals and Rivers Trust who have legal responsibility for many of the canals. Their Welfare Officer says: The Chaplains provide excellent support to boaters and are well regarded and spoken highly of in the boating community. The wealth of knowledge within the chaplaincy and the proactive approach they offer helps to reach out to some very vulnerable boaters and this has been a valuable contribution to the wellbeing of Canal and River users.

Stories of changed lives
M had not moved his boat (which was unlicensed) for a long time. He was about to be taken to court to have his boat taken out of the water and seized. The chaplain visited and helped M to agree a cheaper cruising plan. She then helped him claim housing benefit to pay his boat license and put other support in place. The chaplain then wrote to Canal & River Trust and they granted him a 6-month licence giving time for M to get back on his feet.

The local enforcement officer asked the chaplain to visit J. J’s boat was not licensed and she had been turned down for housing benefit. The local authority had turned her down because her boat was not continually in their area (the river went through 4 different authorities). The chaplain took up the case advocating for J. The whole process of negotiation took nine months but in the end the boater was successfully awarded housing benefit.

We receive requests for help from all over the country. We have secured funding to recruit a second part-time senior chaplain to develop volunteering and increase the areas we cover. We hope to increase the number of Volunteer Chaplains to around 200 over the next three years.

Our Chaplains come from all walks of life. They are a mix of retired teachers, GP’s, clergy, professionals and others who are still working but find volunteering as a Waterways Chaplain, a great way to ‘give back’. To be a volunteer the chaplains commit to ‘walk a mile of towpath’ weekly, meet other chaplains locally on a monthly basis, and attend at least two training days annually.

Training includes: introduction to chaplaincy, working safely, safeguarding, bereavement counselling, benefits training, and lock handling. New chaplains are teamed up with a Mentor, and after about a year of supported practice, become full chaplains.

To recruit, train and induct 35 new volunteer chaplains next year will cost £8,750. This covers the advertising, administration, background checks, training, uniform and equipment. If we raise this money it means that once trained, we can help around 8,000 waterways users in a year. This is the equivalent of two people for the cost of third of a person and the impact is much more than that because of the area covered

Workplace Matters

Moment of Pride

This project has an impact far above its size because of the skill and dedication of its volunteers and their commitment to being change agents in the waterways communities. They bring transformation in the lives of the most vulnerable, empowering them to take back control of their lives.

Location: England, United Kingdom