Report of the Towards Accessible Waterways Day 2023
Saturday 2 December 2023 can be hailed as a great success for the Accessible Waterways Association (AWA). Despite the weather, and some train problems, around 50 people gathered at the wonderful Trefoil House venue in central Birmingham for the Towards Accessible Waterways Day. This was hosted jointly by AWA and the Canal and River Trust, and was linked to the International Day of People with Disabilities.
Although from the outside the choice of venue didn’t look great (because of the current building work), it proved to be a superb one. The brand new Trefoil House has been built for the Girl Guides and is fully accessible and very well equipped.
There was a large hall, which housed our meeting as well as the exhibitors, with plenty of room to circulate. A separate room provided a more sociable area for refreshments and lunch. The whole of the venue was on the ground floor, and nearby parking added to the benefits.
The day was for anyone who identifies as having a disability, or who cares about the accessibility of our beloved canals and their surrounding environments. It included exhibition stands from:
- The Accessible Waterways Association
- The Canal & River Trust
- Waterlodge UK Ltd
- Overwater Wheelyboat Services
- Food Allergy Friends Ltd
- Bruce Boats
- Waterways Chaplaincy
- Navigating the System
Two other exhibitors were sadly unable to attend due to the day’s railway issues:
There were talks/presentations from
- Rob Oliver; Paralympic Medallist Kayaker
- Tracey Clarke – AWA
- Matthew Symonds and Dick Vincent – CRT
- Liz Humphreys – ‘Having a boat built for full accessibility needs’
- Rekha Vijayshankar – Marie Curie
- Rev Richard Alford – Waterways Chaplain
These talks all promoted a great deal of excellent ongoing conversations both in ‘Q&A’ style sessions and in times of informal chatting over the many cups of tea/coffee served throughout the day, as well as over the free buffet lunch.
Perhaps the topic that provoked the most interest was the prototype new mooring bollard that was brought along by Dick Vincent, National Towpath Advisor for CRT. This is a full-size model of the proposed design for bollards to be installed at designated accessible mooring places, which are to be gradually set up around the network. This provoked a great deal of very interesting and useful conversation about the whole topic of the accessibility of moorings and routes to and from them.
Also very interesting was the talk by Rob Oliver about his experience of and gratitude for use of the canals around Birmingham during Covid Lockdown times, when training facilities were closed. Rob used the canals to train for the Tokyo Paralympics 2021, where he won a bronze medal. Through that time, Rob became very fond of our inland waterways system and says that he prefers them to the ‘clinical’ training facilities, because they combine his rigorous training with enjoyment of the wonderful and very varied surroundings.
It was wonderful to share in Liz’s story of having her own bespoke boat built to accommodate her increasing health and mobility difficulties. This shows that it can be done and that a boat can be an excellent home even when we face very challenging physical difficulties.
Rekha was unfortunately unable to join us in person but, thanks to the wonders of technology, gave us a great presentation about the services that Marie Curie can offer for end of life care. This seems like a morose subject but it is one that we all have to face at some point. Rekha tackles the topic with wonderful sensitivity and delivers it with a delightful and sometimes gently humorous manner. It most definitely gave us all food for thought and for further conversation.
You can watch her full presentation below:
Rev Richard Alford told us a little about the ways in which the beloved Waterways Chaplains are able and very willing to befriend, advise and assist any boater in need. They are a truly treasured team of wonderful people around our network.
Matthew Symonds, National Boating Manager and Acting Customer Services Manager for CRT, joined Dick Vincent in talking about the mooring bollards and, more in general, about the accessibility of our 2000 + miles of inland waterways. This started as a questions-and-answers style presentation with Tracey of AWA as the interviewer. It led on to some really good further conversation among all delegates and proved both interesting and helpful.
Tracey gave a little insight into how the Accessible Waterways Association came about. She also talked about plans ongoing for the new organization, explaining that, at the moment all the thoughts buzzing around about this are limited by human resources. A couple of people have subsequently offered to join the team. This is superb news and Tim and Tracey will be in further talks with them to explore the future development of the CIC.
All in all, it was a very pleasant, productive and well-worthwhile day. It was great to meet so may people who are passionate about striving to make our precious canals and rivers more accessible so that they can be enjoyed by everybody equally.
Tracey says “We are delighted with the way this day went and are already thinking ahead to plan another similar event.”.