FEATURE: Summer holidays might not be achievable for some, but could waterways be the answer?

Brownies and their guiders embark on the Waterways Experiences charity's maiden voyage at Red Lion Lane, Apsley

Brownies and their guiders embark on the Waterways Experiences charity's maiden voyage at Red Lion Lane, Apsley

With the taste of summer now firmly in the air, many people may find themselves daydreaming of sunning themselves in warmer climes.

For those with physical or learning disabilities and their families, however, the summer holidays many take for granted are often more difficult to plan.

It may not quite be the Mediterranean sea, but the Grand Union Canal – which starts in London and ends in Birmingham – passes through Dacorum at almost exactly its halfway point, and is a viable vacation option for those to whom a trip aboard is more accessible than a trip abroad.

Some of the best legacies our towns leave to history involve the waterways, including the ‘Dickinson Dash’ from Apsley’s Frogmore Paper Mill.

This stems back to the days of the early 19th century, when papermaker John Dickinson operated an overnight boat service from the mill at Fourdrinier Way to warehouses in Paddington.

Nowadays, the canal provides the backdrop to many of our best beauty spots, such as Apsley Lock and Bulbourne’s Grand Junction Arms.

But as well as a scenic retreat for walkers, this natural asset also provides a way for disabled and disadvantaged people to enjoy a summer holiday.

Waterways Experiences is a Kings Langley-based charity formed from the now-defunct ReachOut Plus, and helps scores of young people with disabilities and learning difficulties to develop friendships, learn new skills and reach their potential.

The charity, which provides fully supported residential boat trips for many disabled people in Dacorum as well as week-long holidays on the canal for them and their families, relaunched this summer and is already available for bookings.

The organisation’s wheelchair-accessible boats can house anywhere from 12 to 40 people, and while crews and skippers are available, everyone is welcome to help drive the boats and operate the locks.

There are fully-equipped kitchens on board, and the charity even has an agreement with nearby chip shop the Kings Langley Fish Bar that means the classic British teatime treat can be delivered to your deck, seven days a week.

Volunteer Michael Albon said at least half of the bookings Waterways Experiences has so far taken are for people with physical or learning disabilities, and their friends or family.

Michael, one of 60 volunteers who keep the charity going, said: “It is an amazing experience. Not everyone can afford or is able to go on a summer holiday abroad, but we even have a discount off our standard rate for people with disabilities.”

One awareness-raising drive for the charity will be its presence at the Leverstock Green Village Fete next Saturday, July 12, before a fun day planned for September.

To find out more about the charity or to book a canal experience, visit wexp.org.uk or call 01923 723 819.

Alongside the work of Waterways Experiences, the Queen Elizabeth Foundation For Disabled People also offers disabled-access boat trips in the area from its base at Bourne End. The 12ft-wide berth, hydraulic lifts and hoists mean people with disabilities and varying requirements can still enjoy a trip – and adapted controls mean they can also steer the boat. Wheelchair user Sophie Partridge visited the area from London to try out a trip on the QEF’s Jubilee boat. She said: “Issues for me personally are making sure I can use the loo, and making sure there is enough space so you don’t feel too squashed and you’re not worried that somebody is about to trip over you.

“It’s just a really nice thing to do and not something you can do every day.”

You can find out more about the services offered by this charity at qef.org.uk




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