In the Chair – Stella Ridgway looks forward

We are all ‘customers’ now

Stella Ridgway looks forward to a better service

As this is my first column as Chair of NABO, I’ll begin with a short background: I live on a narrowboat on the Upper Peak Forest Canal with my husband Chris and two Labradors. My disability prevents us moving at present and we are now on a home mooring. I may not have lived on a boat all my life, but my family spent six weeks on one after they emigrated to New Zealand in the early 1960s, and I spent my teens crewing for friends who had yachts. I didn’t know about my great grandfather until after we had moved aboard, when my Mum told me that he was born on a narrowboat in Middlewich and was a flyboatman with his brothers and father. So, in a sense I have come home to my roots and, even with my illness, we have never once thought about moving back into bricks and mortar. We love this life and the strong community we have among boaters; something that escapes you outside of the towpath and certainly one that CRT still struggles to understand.

After moving aboard, it became apparent that there was a general discontent with CRT among boaters and that the Trust managers weren’t helping themselves. CRT then compounded it by issuing new terms and conditions with little consultation. It was then that we decided we needed to do a bit more and joined NABO. The enforcement actions, particularly against boats without a home mooring, were haphazard across the country. To compound this, the terms and conditions also addressed boats with a home mooring, saying that in the future, you had to maintain the same boating pattern as boats without a home mooring (moving every 14 days etc.). This is completely against the 1995 Act of Parliament and a condition that NABO is still opposed to. In fact, even the Trust seems a little confused, judging by the recent Boaters’ Updates, in which the Trust contradicted itself.

I decided to stand as a private boaters’ rep on the CRT Council and was elected in December 2015. As I approach the end of the first year, I have attended two council meetings (held every six months) and two meetings with the Boating Team. So, as you can see, we don’t get to have a huge influence. But they are interesting, particularly as we boaters are now ‘customers’ and should benefit from a better customer service from the Trust. I often feel like a lone voice, being the only northern boater, and one of only two liveaboards, but if I can change perceptions, it will be a positive outcome. Vegetation cutback, mowing and dredging near designated visitor moorings are at the top of CRT’s priorities, although it remains to be seen whether this translates to action on the waterways. However, CRT is now listening to boaters, with an extended National Advisory Group, and it appears to accept feedback from the various user groups. Death by PowerPoint is still prevalent, but it is getting better. They do at least provide time for discussion – most of the time.

As Chair of NABO, I will continue the work done by my predecessors and will be representing your views in the meetings NABO has with the various navigation authorities. NABO’s Council also has a presence on the BSS Panel, but we do need your help. If you have concerns, or issues with vegetation, dredging, or maintenance, you can now complete a new form online. As ‘customers’ we have the right to expect better customer service and NABO will ensure that the Trust act on this, on our members’ behalf.

The last year has been interesting and 2017 will likely see more changes. Again, we will need our members’ help in presenting your views to the various navigation authorities. So please get in touch and come along to a council meeting. Finally, wherever you spend Christmas, have a lovely time. Merry Christmas and happy New Year.