Peter Braybrook explains how this organisation helps boaters in need.
The Waterways Chaplaincy is a growing network of around 100 volunteers serving the Inland Waterways from York to Woking and Llangollen to the Wash. Wherever you are, you can contact a chaplain through the website contact form at www.waterwayschaplaincy.org.uk/contact-us. I am based in Banbury on the South Oxford Canal and cover from Oxford to Napton Junction. But we are not parochial and I have served boaters on the Grand Union and Thames, and even one on the Huddersfield Narrow! Although a ministry of the Christian church, we are there for everybody of all faiths or none. We are pastorally proactive and evangelically reactive, which means that we will not push our faith onto anybody, but will share our story where we are given the opportunity to encourage and to bring the hope that we have found in our own lives.
The Waterways Chaplaincy’s distinctive primary focus is to reach out to people in need on our rivers and canals. We support the increasing number of boaters who are ‘signposted’ to us. This could be by CRT, through licence support officers or the welfare officer, or from marina and boatyard staff who are concerned about somebody. We also support boaters in need who are identified by other boaters, concerned for someone they have come across.
The Covid-19 pandemic and the associated lockdowns have seen a national rise in hardship. This has affected the waterways community too. We have helped boaters who have been unable to access essential benefits because they do not have internet access. One boater had lost his job the moment lockdown started and lived off savings for a couple of weeks. But when these ran out and his overdraft reached its limit, it was noticed that he was not eating properly and had fallen behind with mooring fees. He could not afford a smartphone or even credit on his antiquated pay-as-you-go mobile. Help was given to access Universal Credit via a laptop and a dongle from under an umbrella, at social distance in the open air. He was also referred to the local food bank and Citizens Advice Bureau to help deal with his debt crisis. Others have been helped to access moorings and CRT’s licence renewal system for similar reasons.
Chaplains have access to a hardship fund and can offer food, coal/fuel and essential repairs. We will aid access to medical centres and hospitals, assist with shopping, assist with moving boats, and have even helped to transport dehumidifier chemicals needed to dry out a leaking boat.
Some of our long-term clients have had to isolate or shield themselves and we have had to support some over the telephone or by text. Increased footfall on the towpaths at mooring sites has also caused anxiety. Lockdown has brought a substantial increase in concern over people's mental health and wellbeing. Chaplains are trained to listen and can often ease the stresses of mental troubles. Around the country, we have seen a huge increase in serious suicidal thoughts, anxiety and depression. Isolation and the inability to keep on the move have added to the stresses of daily life. We have also noticed more support has been needed for those who have been bereaved; the closure of attendance at a funeral, with the associated support of friends and family, has been denied to many.
If you or someone you know is facing additional challenges in these strange times, you do not need to do it alone. The tagline of the Waterways Chaplaincy is ‘coming alongside you’. We may not be able to alleviate all the problems that you face but we will confidentially listen, advocate, support, refer and mediate. If we cannot help, we know a man who can!