Home comforts

NABO Chair Stella Ridgway offers some tips for liveaboards

I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas. We certainly did, as my eldest daughter surprised me by arriving from New Zealand for an extended visit on Christmas Eve. As you can imagine when you are surprised like that, there were many tears, hugs and laughter plus lots of catching up; online is good, but nothing like physically seeing someone.

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.

The (mostly) ups and (a few) downs of chairing NABO

Mike Rodd looks back over the last three years.

With our AGM looming, this will – sadly – be my last column as your chairman. When David (gently?) twisted my arm as he held me out over the K&A from the balcony of the pub where the Council had been meeting at Bradford-on-Avon, I (willingly?) agreed to do a three-year stint. I firmly believe that organisations like ours should be continually refreshed, and I am delighted that we have been able to find someone like Stella Ridgway to take over the reins, if she is elected at the AGM. I have so much enjoyed my time in office and it has always been a great privilege to be associated with NABO in this way. Council meetings are a sheer joy to chair, and I could not have wished for more dedicated and thoroughly pleasant and professional colleagues.

Focus on the Thames and K&A

Chairman Mike Rodd has some good, and less good, news of these adjoining waterways.

I hope that you have all enjoyed some wonderful summer cruising days and probably now starting your pre-wintering work, getting your boat ready for the colder days ahead. We spent last week replacing the coach-lines on our boat. We’d had a leading national hire-boat company repaint our ‘new’ boat three years ago, when we bought it from the Cambrian Cruisers’ hire fleet. We were very pleased with the job they’d done – well, until the vinyl coach-lines started shrinking and going a nasty brown colour! I then found out from the distributors that the vinyl used was only a ‘3-year’ one, so I guess the deterioration wasn’t entirely surprising, but still not what you’re looking for, given the cost of a paint job!

Chairman’s Column


Why not stand?

Chairman Mike Rodd focuses on two upcoming elections


Two important events are looming for all of us who care about our wonderful waterways: Council elections for both NABO and CRT.

The past few years have been crucial for NABO, especially as we come to grips with our role as a ‘critical friend’ to the new team emerging under Richard Parry’s leadership at CRT. The next few years, however, are likely to prove even more crucial for all boaters – not only with the new Terms and Conditions and CRT struggling to get a grip on the seemingly increasingly complex issues related to moorings and continuous cruising, but also with the inevitable takeover (in some form) of EA’s navigational responsibilities by CRT.

We always said that the only way that BW could successfully become a Charitable Trust (and not just be BW by another name) would be if there were major cultural changes in the organisation.  This would, inevitably, require changes in leadership. Richard has largely completed these changes and we now have to learn to work with the new organisational structures and the new people involved – many of them with little waterways’ experience. Let me make it clear that I have always been very supportive of much of BW/CRT, especially the guys on the ground, the heritage people and the engineering folk (the latter including some of the country’s top professional engineers). Our problem areas have always been linked to licences, regulations, moorings and many other legal issues.

Even if we don’t always agree with the new folk, I have to say that they are far more open and willing to engage in debate, and largely accept and respond to us as professional, experienced people with the interests of the waterways at heart.

And it is your Council which leads on all these activities – as Chairman, I could not wish to work with a better team, and the feedback from most members has been very encouraging. Of course, not all members always agree with what we are doing, or the way we do it. That’s what we are all about – we are all volunteers and can only do what we believe our members want us to do. NABO, incidentally, is legally ‘An unincorporated association set up through an agreement between a group of people who come together for a reason other than to make a profit...’ So, if you don’t like something, please tell us! (We do also understand that most boaters just want to boat – and hence normally just ‘lay low’ and ‘say nuffing’ – until, that is, they get a rude letter from CRT or EA!)

But of course, any volunteer-driven organisation like NABO needs to continually to refresh its leadership.  We have been very fortunate to have a strong NABO Council and now the elections are giving us an opportunity to enhance that, as well as to seek new inputs. While much of the day-to-day business is done by email, our regular meetings (~7 per year) are held on Saturdays at venues that are (as far as possible) close to the centre of gravity of our attendees. Meetings start at 10.45 am and the pre-lunch session is devoted to strategic issues and policy decisions. The more routine matters are then dealt with in the afternoon, ending around 3.00 pm.

But, let’s be honest and say this is not where the work ends! Each Council member is expected to be responsible for a particular area of our work (as listed in NABO News), some of which do require a fair amount of time. But, in all cases, the idea is for people to opt to do a job that they have a passion for and are really committed to – and the rewards are immense. Council members soon become well-connected experts in their area of expertise and also soon find that NABO punches well above its weight – both locally and nationally – and many doors are opened to us. NABO is in very good shape financially.  Under David Fletcher's leadership, our finances were especially carefully managed and, with all tasks now done totally by volunteers, our expenditure is down to the absolute minimum. And the recent flurry of new members joining (issues like the changing T&C’s always alert boaters to the role of NABO!) has meant that we are stable and secure. However, we still have gaps in the range of skills available: as mentioned elsewhere, we need more folk with IT skills, and also a Minutes Secretary. We could also do with more regional representatives who can make sure that we are well represented, and visible, in local matters.


CRT Council


Turning to the other election, that of the CRT Council, I must be frank and say that I always felt the CRT governance structure to be poorly thought through and not reflecting the needs of a charitable organisation. For a start, I could not see how we boaters – the prime and most passionate users of the waterways – could have a proper and effective input under the current structure. The Trustees are largely non-users and the Council is seriously undemocratic. And yet, without boats on them, the canals would simply die. After all, besides the business users, we are the only users who pay to use ‘their’ waterways (no, actually, ‘our’ waterways – the canals are still in the end owned by the Government on our behalf).

A boater's only way of providing input (other than via organisations such as NABO) is through the CRT Council. That may seem all well and good, until we remember that the only ‘power’ the Council has is to appoint (and ‘un-appoint’!) the Trustees; everything else it does is purely advisory.  The attendance records of CRT Council members (and the sad lack of attendance of Trustees at the two Council meetings a year!) is very depressing and indicates that the whole governance model is seriously questionable – this is a charity, after all.

However, it is no use just standing around and saying that things are wrong: we need people in the tent! And we also need NABO to keep up its vital role as a true ‘critical friend’ of CRT – and, indeed, of EA and other navigational authorities.

So, don’t just moan and twitter, get onboard. You can’t drive the boat from the towpath – unless you are a horse, I suppose.