Life afloat with Wa­ter­ways Chap­lain Deb­bie Nouwen

Canal Boat - - Contents -

Wa­ter­ways chap­lain Deb­bie Nouwen an­swers the ques­tions

1 What first at­tracted you to the wa­ter­ways?

I was made un­ex­pect­edly home­less af­ter our land­lord put up the rent by a silly amount. This was pre-2008 when house prices were at a premium. We strug­gled to rent any­thing suit­able, so buy­ing a boat seemed a good op­tion. Liv­ing off the grid and be­ing closer to na­ture re­mains as at­trac­tive now, as it was the first day we stepped on to the boat.

2 Where is your favourite view of the wa­ter?

Gar­grave and Barnoldswick on the Leeds & Liver­pool Canal, ut­terly stun­ning and in God’s own county – York­shire!

3 What does the net­work have to of­fer the coun­try?

In a world where so many live their lives like the rocket-heeled Mex­i­can Mouse ‘Speedy Gon­za­les’ (from the car­toon Looney Tunes), our canals and rivers of­fer a place of re­lax­ation and rest.

4 As new Deputy Na­tional Se­nior Wa­ter­ways Chap­lain, what will your role en­tail?

My role is to de­velop, nur­ture and sup­port wa­ter­ways chap­laincy in the North of Eng­land (and parts of the Mid­lands). I over­see three teams; in the North West, South York­shire/Lin­colnshire and Birm­ing­ham re­gion. A lot of my time is spent sup­port­ing those chap­lains out on the tow­path. There­after, I am ex­plor­ing new op­por­tu­ni­ties to es­tab­lish new hubs in the north. I li­aise a lot with lo­cal churches, CRT and part­ner agen­cies.

5 Where did you learn about life on the cut?

We learned as we went along. I made so many mis­takes in the early stages and the term ‘bap­tism of fire’ would cer­tainly de­scribe my ex­pe­ri­ence in the first few years. How­ever, I have ben­e­fited from meet­ing so many won­der­ful peo­ple and boaters.

6 So you are a sea­soned live­aboard?

I have lived on a boat now for over 10 years. It has been an ad­ven­ture filled with fun and joy, but at times also real sad­ness and dif­fi­culty. Life on a boat is never dull!

7 Tell us about your boat

When I bought the boat, ev­ery­thing inside was navy blue and cho­co­late brown! Ten years later, this has been rec­ti­fied!

8 What do the wa­ter­ways need most?

I think there needs to be far more af­ford­able moor­ings (in­clud­ing win­ter ones). It would also be good for wide-beams to have the abil­ity to sail around the en­tire net­work, in­stead of the lim­i­ta­tions that are in place.

As a chap­lain, I think those who use the canals and rivers could do with meet­ing an amaz­ing man called Je­sus. Ob­vi­ously as a chap­lain I would say that. But this guy was a rad­i­cal who spoke out for the un­der­dog, for those on the mar­gins of life, for those who were least, last and so of­ten for­got­ten (like many boaters).

9 Where have you en­joyed boat­ing in the UK?

I love cruis­ing around the North of Eng­land, es­pe­cially the Leeds & Liver­pool Canal, the Selby Canal and up to­wards the River Ouse to­wards York and Ripon.

10 What are your fond­est mem­o­ries?

My most re­cent one, was sit­ting in the grounds of Iona Abbey in Scot­land, lis­ten­ing to mu­sic and watch­ing dol­phins leap­ing around next to the fer­ries on the Sea of Iona. There re­ally was some­thing of the divine about it.

11 What is the his­tory of your or­gan­i­sa­tion?

In 2008, there was a Sal­va­tion Army re­port called the “Seeds of Ex­clu­sion”. At that time it noted that 20 per­cent of the UK pop­u­la­tion lived in rel­a­tive poverty, with some mi­grat­ing to the wa­ter­ways for a cheaper and al­ter­na­tive life­style. It con­cluded that it was the na­ture of life for peo­ple who live on the canals that there is a short­age of nor­mal sup­port struc­tures. As a re­sult, Wa­ter­ways Chap­laincy was born through the sup­port of Work­place Mat­ters, who have over 50 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence of bring­ing mean­ing and pur­pose into the work­place. A few weeks ago we cel­e­brated our 10th An­niver­sary of Wa­ter­ways Chap­laincy in the Tower of Lon­don.

12 What is the role of vol­un­teer chap­lains?

We are Chris­tian vol­un­teers from lo­cal churches com­ing from a di­ver­sity of Chris­tian tra­di­tions in­clud­ing lay peo­ple and or­dained min­is­ters. Some have a back­ground of boat­ing, whilst oth­ers had no pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence of in­land wa­ter­ways. The role of a WWC fo­cuses on be­ing a vis­i­ble pres­ence along spe­cific stretches of the river and canal net­work in Eng­land and Wales, by pro­vid­ing friend­ship, sup­port and a lis­ten­ing ear to all those who have con­tact with the in­land wa­ter­ways. Chap­lains are asked to walk a mile of tow­path a week in their lo­cal area, and the role re­ally is com­pletely flex­i­ble. Be­ing a vol­un­teer chap­lain is chal­leng­ing and re­ward­ing.

13 Where can boaters keep an eye out for you?

I am based in the North of Eng­land but travel around a great deal, so see wa­ter­wayschap­laincy.org.uk

14 What is your proud­est achieve­ment?

I left school with no qual­i­fi­ca­tions and not much hope. In my mid 20s, I de­cided to go to night school and did a GCSE in English lan­guage and passed with an A. Al­though I have since col­lected var­i­ous post-grad­u­ate qual­i­fi­ca­tions, my GCSE is the one that I am gen­uinely most proud of.

15 What would you like to see hap­pen to the wa­ter­ways?

That the hid­den chal­lenges so many boaters ex­pe­ri­ence, will be­come more read­ily known and sup­ported. That stretches of wa­ter­ways can be ex­panded upon, such as the Ch­ester­field Canal.

16 Have you ever fallen in?

Oh yes, al­though I ac­tu­ally man­aged to get through seven years without do­ing so, only to then do it twice in a week.

17 You clearly en­joy the tow­path com­mu­nity?

You meet the whole of life on the tow­path from the ab­so­lutely won­der­ful through to the se­ri­ously bizarre! I love the di­ver­sity of peo­ple, the friend­li­ness of many boaters and the will­ing­ness to help each other. There re­ally is no other com­mu­nity quite like it.

18 Is your sup­port well re­ceived?

Yes I think so. Sean Wil­liams who is the Na­tional Wel­fare Of­fi­cer (for CRT) write of us: …. “The Chap­lains pro­vide ex­cel­lent sup­port and are well re­garded and very well spo­ken of in the boat­ing com­mu­nity. The ex­pe­ri­ences I have had work­ing closely with the lo­cal chap­lains, in so of­ten dif­fi­cult and chal­leng­ing sit­u­a­tions, has been ex­tremely pos­i­tive”.

On a canal boat user’s fo­rum, one boater wrote: “Trust me, wa­ter­ways chap­lains are not a bunch of Bi­ble bash­ers, they re­ally are great and will freely of­fer any­one sup­port and help. Per­son­ally, I’ve re­ceived sup­port from them when I was in trou­ble and they were great”.

19 What did you want to be at the age of 12?

A RAF fighter pi­lot.

20 What would your su­per­power be?

The abil­ity to stuff my­self with cho­co­late and grow thin!

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