Giving Help to Those on Houseboats
Posted on June 23rd, 2021 at 10:31AM
Ian Lawrence has been a local Acts 435 Advocate at Yardley Wood Baptist Church in Birmingham since 2015, and in recent years has served the community of 'Boaters' as they are affectionately known. Alongside the Waterways Chaplains, whose ministry is to support those that use and live on the waterways in the UK, Ian is able to post requests for a variety of needs for those living on their own boats. Ian said that he is 'grateful' to be able to meet these practical needs, and the connection with Richard Alford, one of the Waterways Chaplains, has been a fantastic way to show God's love in action to those who often feel isolated on the local canals.
The Baptist Together recently featured the Waterways Chaplains and described the hidden nature of the waterways*: "There are approximately 36,000 boats on the 2000-mile canal network of England and Wales. It's a substantial community and one which Senior Waterways Chaplain Mark Chester describes as “hidden”. Not all are holidaymakers, and many tend to go unnoticed, especially during winter when practical needs really unfold."
Richard Alford is one of these chaplains in Birmingham, and often sees needs on his visits to those living on the canals there. In conversation we spoke about the reasons that people live on the water. There are many who live on the water for the quieter lifestyle, but for many it is a choice of affordability and often people who have suffered job loss or relationship breakdown decide to live on a houseboat due to lower purchase cost. However, they don't often realise that there are ongoing costs associated with owning a boat, such as a boat safety certificate, insurance and a boat license. All of these are are costly items for those on low income.
The majority of those Richard interacts with are single men who have sought this cheaper living option, and that he supports many who have "mental health and other medical issues, as well as alcohol addiction", which is heavily attributed to the isolated nature of living on a boat away from communities. Those that cannot afford to permanently moor their boat have to continuously cruise, which means they are in a new location every 14 days. Richard said that he has seen an "increase in numbers asking for help", not just those needing practical help but also those that need a listening ear and extra support.
One individual who has been helped by Richard is J, who is a single man living on a narrowboat. He is unable to work because of a disability and receives Employment and Support Allowance. Every 4 years he needs to obtain a Boat Safety Certificate (MOT) for his boat otherwise it will be illegal for him to be using it or living on it. His boat examination was due and J did not have enough money to pay for it. If he wasn't able to get this certificate he would have become homeless. Thankfully Acts 435 donors stepped in to help J, and he said this: "You have saved my bacon, thank you. I would have become homeless without your help in being able to get my Boat Safety Certificate. Now I can get it done and continue to live on my boat. Thank you once again."
Similarly, C who is receiving Universal Credit and lives on his boat in Hinckley Marina. His cat needed emergency vet treatment and he had to pay the excess. This left him without the funds to pay for his boat licence which he needed to be able to continue living on his boat. Thankfully, Acts 435 donors were able to give a helping hand to C, and provide him with the cost of his licence. He said this: "Thank you. I have no where else to live except on my boat and now I am able to pay my licence fee because of your helpfulness. I do not know who you are but thank you so much."
It is not just licences, insurances and safety certificates that are needed; there are many other day-to-day costs of owning your own home, and normal living expenses that are much-needed.
N, who lives on a narrowboat, is on low income because of the pandemic. He was trying to get the basic necessity of running water installed on his boat, including a shower, toilet and sink as he did not have these facilities and couldn't afford them. The local Advocate, Ian, posted a request on his behalf, which would enable him to get a shower installed. N, was very grateful for the ability to install a shower, and said: "Thank you so much for the money! With the money you have given me I can now go and get the bits I need to fit a shower in my home. Thank you for your generosity."
The Waterways Chaplains, alongside the local Acts 435 Advocates, are not only lending a listening ear, and providing support, but are also able to meet the practical needs of those who find themselves in desperate need on their own houseboats near Birmingham. We're thankful to our donors for continuing to meet these needs, and enable the chaplains to show God's love in action in this practical way.
If you would like to learn more about the Waterways Chaplains, who are spread across the UK, take a look at their website.