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More Than Just A Boat Ride
the UK help sponsor a special day for people with disabilities.
By Maxine Thorne
There is something magical about
any boat trip but when the boat has been specially built to give people with
disabilities a day of relaxation and fun, it takes ‘messing about on the river’
to a new level.
This is certainly
true for the tens of thousands of guests with disabilities or life-limiting
illnesses who, for 26 sun-dappled seasons, have enjoyed a day on the
Gloucester-Sharpness Canal thanks to the Willow Trust. This is more than an
excellent day out; the many guests who enjoy it do not have to pay a penny.
The Willow Trust,
based in Cirencester in Gloucestershire, provides day trips on the canal for
people with disabilities across a very broad spectrum.
Around 7,000 people
enjoyed the peace and calm of canal cruising during the 2016 season, which runs
every weekday from early April to late October.
All costs were
covered by fundraising and donations, including annual donations from Friends
of Willow Trust, a wide range of organisations, individuals and charity groups
and local Rotary clubs.
Liz Rowland of the
Willow Trust told us, “On a Willow Trust boat there are absolutely no barriers
to who can be our guest; not age, nor any type of disability. Our guests and
their carers join the volunteer crews and professional skipper of the Spirit of
Freedom II or the Leonard Matchan for a day on the water which, for some, will
not have been experienced before.
“Both boats were
built to be highly stable and on-board we have a large electric lift so
wheelchair users can also go up to the helm position and steer the boat they
are on. The boats have long picture windows and an outside seating area
and as our website shows, there are sometimes theme days such as the Pirate
Day. The photos tell the story of how much our guests enjoy their time with us.
“When we talk about disability at The
Willow Trust, we don’t interpret what that means. We started in 1989 and our
first boat would cost £130,000. It was built in the Spring of 1991. That order
was based on £5 that we had received as a donation and we then had to raise
money for each of the payment stages. People spread the word.”
There is no doubt
that the funding of two boats, two full time qualified captains, as well as the
maintenance and running costs is a challenge and, as Liz said, “We need to
continually raise money and we have to go forward optimistically. With
two boats out and money not falling from the sky, we greatly appreciate the
kind people who support The Willow Trust.”
The Willow Trust
relies on 100 or so volunteers to keep their daily week-time cruises going
during their seven-month long season. About 10 per cent are members of local
Rotary clubs and one is Richard Belliss. Richard has been a Rotarian for 25
years and was President of his Cotswold Tyndale Club for 2006/7, during which
The Willow Trust was Richard’s chosen charity.
his holiday to speak to us about not only what ‘Willow’ means to the guests but
also to volunteers who give their time and effort to make the canal cruises so
popular. In fact, so popular that every day of the 2016 season was booked and
reservations for 2017 are already coming in. We asked Richard to explain how he
became involved with The Willow Trust and it turns out this is a family affair.
Richard told us,
“My wife, Di, has supported The Willow Trust for over 20 years and when I
retired ten years ago I was able to give some of my own time, too. We
have around 30 guests on each trip and three or four volunteer crewmembers and,
of course, our Skipper. As volunteer crewmembers, we are trained well so we can
assist guests and deal with any emergency, should one arise. Even taking the
helm, if need be.
“We ensure our
guests are comfortable and have a great day out, cruising along from about
10.30am and then stopping for a picnic lunch before returning home at around
3pm. The restorative nature of being on water gives enjoyment and relaxation to
our guests and their carers.”
“Other local Rotary clubs, as well as mine, donate to the funds which are so
important to The Willow Trust. The donations also come from other organisations
and individuals, of course, and are greatly appreciated.
“This is why our
guests do not have to pay. Personally, I enjoy it particularly because I
am interacting with people who have varying disabilities
or life-limiting illnesses, and no one is excluded due to money. It’s rewarding
to make their time with us as pleasant as possible.”
Source: Rotary in Britain and Ireland Magazine
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