Route canal

6 March 2019 | North West England

Karen McBrady, Carl Oakes and Martin Finn and Kevin Phoenix on the Community Spirit 2 of the East Manchester Community Boat Project

Narrowboat gives disabled people amazing trip out on Manchester’s waterways.

It may look like the other boats gliding majestically down the canal, but the Community Spirit 2 is a very special boat.

It was purpose built from scratch so that disabled people could enjoy time on the water free of charge following a two-year community fundraising drive in Manchester.

The specially-converted narrowboat is run by the East Manchester Community Boat Project. It now boasts extra large cabin windows to allow passengers panoramic views of the passing countryside. It can accommodate up to 12 passengers, including up to four wheelchair users and others with reduced mobility. Special equipment enables them all to board safely and easily.

A remote steering facility even allows wheelchair users to steer the boat from a wheelchair position. The unique community boat project is staffed entirely by volunteers.

Among those who benefit are members from the National Autistic Society who go out every Thursday on the boat. “For the people we support, it is like the perfect day coming out on the water,” explains team leader Mark Cooke, from the National Autistic Society. “And I have never had an incident, which must be an indicator that things are going right and they enjoy it,” he adds.

“It is so peaceful on the water. And the sensory element of it, like the slow pace, and movement, makes them feel calm. There is also structure to the day, which helps with people who have autism. In December, the water froze over, and made a crunchy noise when we glided through, they found that intriguing.”

Mark added: “There is also the socialising element. When they meet people in the local community it helps them to better understand their condition. We always stop halfway through the trip along the river bank and go collect fish and chips, and have a chat with people.

“When we are on the barge, people wave and we are just just part of the community on the water like anyone else. There should be more opportunities like this in the community, why should those who are a little different be locked away behind closed doors?”

Stewart Gainey, the booking and crewing officer, explained: “This year will be our 25th anniversary. In all those years we have not charged a penny. Although we do accept donations, and we are always looking for volunteers.

“Roughly 1,500 passengers access the boat every year and we deliver a fantastic day out for people. I was never a canal boat enthusiast but I got involved after seeing the smiles of the faces of those who have had a lovely day out and might otherwise not have had that opportunity.”

Anyone interested in volunteering should go to the website and local companies can sponsor a seat on board “Community Spirit 2” for 12 months.

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