This years NBTA London Winter Warmer collected together 35 London bargee travellers. We were served good food, a great film followed by warm discussion.
The spirit of the do it yourself culture had not escaped bargee travellers as we sat around tables built that very day out of pallets. After eating food freshly prepared by the bargee travellers cooked at the venue, we watch the short film ‘Off the Cut’. The film showed us that the kind of attacks we are under in London from CRT are much the same as the stresses and strains placed on the boat dweller community on the Kennet and Avon canal in the West Country. Inspired by the documentary and the introduction from the director herself (Wendy Zakiewicz), we then broke out into discussion on a great amount of issues we face as boat dwellers. There was great enthusiasm by people that are not presently members of the NBTA for us to fight the CRTs policy of threating people with eviction. There was a real feeling that something has to be done for boat dwellers and support for the boat dweller demo next year (on the Saturday 8th April) was high.
So overall it was a good mix of food, working together, socialising, a good film and discussion about what we should do to defending our homes and fight for better conditions such as more facilities such as water points, elsans and rubbish bins!
National Bargee Travellers Association London (NBTA L) is hosting a warm winter meal with a selection of freshly cooked food and film showing of ‘OFF the CUT’ followed by a discussion. Off the Cut film provides unique insight into a community of boaters living on the Kennet and Avon canal. The film follows a family on their pedal powered boat as they embark on a journey in which their way of life, and that of the whole community, comes under threat. At the event there will be someone from the making of the film to talk about issues in the film.
All boaters are welcome to come and cook with us, as well as bring their own dishes. We will start cooking at 5pm. This will be a great event for itinerant boaters to eat together, socialise and openly talk about defending our homes in a warm and friendly environment.
Thursday 1 December at 7pm at London Action Resource Centre 62 Fieldgate St, London E1 1ES
The venus is off a road on Whitechapel Road, between Aldgate East tube and Whitechapel tube.
This survey differs from CRT’s survey as we wish to see what improvements can be made on the waterways, specifically for boaters without a home mooring. This survey may be completed by anyone who is using, has used or is intending to use the following waterways for navigation: Limehouse Cut, Hertford Union Canal, Lee Navigation, River Stort; Regent’s
Canal and Grand Union Paddington Arm; Grand Union up to Rickmansworth, Slough Arm.
The results will be used to campaign for improvement of London boat dwellers’ needs.
A big thanks to all those who take the time to complete our survey
On 14th September 2016 Canal & River Trust (CRT), together with police, bailiffs and a CRT enforcement officer, seized a boat without a home mooring that was a vulnerable woman’s home while she was asleep inside it. The woman, who suffers from epilepsy, was later rushed to hospital in an ambulance as the stress of the eviction had caused her condition to become critical.
Boat dweller Peter John Wells, who was an eyewitness, filmed the eviction. It is on YouTube here
Mr Wells said: “On the morning of September 14th Corrine Rotherham, CRT Enforcement Officer, and a team of seven private contractors set off in a vessel from Bradford on Avon on the Kennet and Avon Canal. They were on a mission to evict a lone woman living on a boat in Bath due to a licence dispute. They arrived as she was still asleep in bed, boarded the boat and proceeded to attach their boat to hers and tow it away. A number of nearby boaters were alerted to the situation and a blockade was formed preventing the removal. The boaters offered to pay any outstanding money due on the spot. This was not accepted”.
“Ms Rotherham decided her plan had gone seriously wrong and called for back-up, in this case four police officers and a police van with an unknown number of officers inside. By this time the woman, who suffers from epilepsy, was so distraught that she was reduced to tears. At one point she was surrounded by CRT, bailiffs and police officers against the railway wall. Despite support from the other boaters she felt she had to escape the situation and she agreed to leave her boat. Her boat was taken to Bradford on Avon, lifted on a lorry and driven away. Two days later she was admitted to hospital as the stress o the eviction had caused her epilepsy to become critical”.
Before being taken to hospital the woman wandered around Bath in a confused and distressed state. According to staff at a drop-in centre for homeless people, she was so ill that she was incoherent and could not explain what had happened. The following day she was found by police and an ambulance was called.
The eviction of this vulnerable boater and its drastic effect on her health raise some very serious questions about CRT’s compliance with the law regarding the safeguarding of vulnerable adults. For example, why was there no welfare officer present? Why were the police called? Why did Enforcement Officer Corrine Rotherham not want to be filmed?
CRT’s Relationship Manager Matthew Symonds claimed on 22nd September that the Waterways Chaplaincy had been supporting the woman, but the Chaplaincy has confirmed that they were not involved at all prior to the eviction. CRT did refer the case to their Welfare Officer Sean Williams, but unlike social housing, CRT has no measures in place to safeguard vulnerable people in cases where health issues mean that the person at risk of eviction does not engage with the authorities. We have been informed that the boater attempted to claim Housing Benefit.
According to Mr Wells, it was apparent from his conversation with them that the bailiffs, police and Ms Rotherham all wanted to avoid any responsibility for the eviction. He said that one bailiff was clearly uncomfortable and another said that it was ridiculous and tried to distance himself from his job.
CRT currently uses bailiffs from a private company called The Sheriffs Office when they believe that a boat dweller will be resident on a boat at an eviction. Kevin George Thomas of The Sheriffs Office appears to be one of the bailiffs in the first photo. The second photo shows Mr Thomas serving court papers on a boater in 2014. Kevin Thomas used to work for Sherlock, a trading division of Shergroup Limited, which also included Sherforce bailiffs that CRT used until about 2014.
We have unconfirmed reports that the woman was renting the boat but the “landlord” failed to licence it. Anyone in this situation should make sure that the boat is licensed and should also be aware that they have very few rights.
The Canal and River Trust has got a survey on bookable moorings.
National Bargee Travellers Association London (NBTA London) believes that bookable moorings on the towpath are another way to take away the common land that IS the towpath from everyone. Towpath should be shared with all and not reduced to only people that can book a mooring.
Bookable moorings are one step to chargeable moorings. This is shown in their question in the survey where they ask if people are willing to pay for bookable moorings.
We should not let the towpath be turned into a business.
NBTA London are willing to work with CRT to explore the possibility of making bookable moorings on the offside but the towpath is for everyone.
Keep the towpath public!
Please fill in CRT’s questionnaire. The closing date is Friday 26 August, so please get it done as soon as you can.
Here are our suggested answers to some of their questions.
Q6 asks if there’s anything else you think CRT could do to improve boating in London- we suggest people include the following demands: more facilities, more mooring rings, stop reducing mooring times to less than 14 days.
Q7 asks if you go to london, how long do you think you would moor your boat but it only gives you options up to 7nights- we suggest people do not choose the max of 7 nights or anything less and to write in the ‘other’ box, ‘no longer than 14 days as specified in law.’
Q8 asks if there’s anything else that is important to boaters for cruising round london- we suggest people reiterate the following demands: more facilities, more mooring rings, stop reducing mooring times to less than 14 days.
Q9 asks if people want to pay for short-stay mooring spaces in london. We suggest you tick ‘no’.
The Canal and River Trust (CRT), which manages about 80% of the inland waterways, is continuing its policy of threatening to evict and evicting travelling boat dwellers.
In response to this, the National Bargee Travellers Association (NBTA) organised an event in East London called the Towpath Gathering to celebrate the community of travelling boaters. We converted one of the larger boats into a floating stage for the day and there was a wide range of music acts, speeches from the boater community and other housing activists, as well as street performers. Along with trade boats, we demonstrated that our community is worth celebrating and protecting. About 200 people attended the event despite the wet weather.
Housing activists from the local area came to the Towpath Gathering to support the campaign to stop the evictions of boat dwellers.
Pat Turnbull the chair of a local residents association, the Victoria Community Association said at the event;
‘You are also victims, like us and our families, of the housing crisis.
The housing crisis has been brought about by years of reliance on the market and cuts in government funding for housing provisions.’
‘The Canal and River Trust was turned into a charity starved of government funding, making it need more money from mainly private business.’
NBTA spokesperson, said,
‘The push to get more money from private business, means the Canal and River Trust is more interested in commercial needs rather than the needs of people that live on the waterways. This is where their policy comes from. They [CRT] want to please commercial needs.’
‘Many travelling boat dwellers are feeling the negative impact of Canal and River Trust policy, a policy which only makes sense if you believe they wish to get rid of our way of life and our community.
The Towpath Gathering was a celebration of the strength of our community and an opportunity to bring boaters together to fight to protect it.’
Meeting with NBTA and CRT re: London Mooring Strategy
On Thursday 26 May 2016, representatives of NBTAL (Marcus Trower, Helen Brice and Dave Mendes da Costa) met with Sorwar Ahmed (SA) and Matthew Symonds (MS) from CRT to discuss the London Mooring Strategy. The meeting was at CRT’s Little Venice offices in London.
The meeting was open and had a positive tone with both sides wanting to work together on certain issues.
Representation on working groups
We said that we were happy to be in discussion with CRT and that future meetings like this would be useful. Being the largest boating organisation in London, we expressed our belief that we should be part of the Working Group which is meeting on a monthly basis to discuss ideas. MS said that as this was an internal working group a decision had been taken to only include members of the London Waterways Partnership and CRT staff, so that each boating organisation would be able to remain independent and comment on the proposals that emerge from the London mooring strategy. MS was clear that no other boating groups would be on the working group, but that there will be opportunities for boating organisations (including NBTAL) to comment formally and informally on proposals as they emerge.
We asked whether minutes or notes would be taken from the meetings. MS said that notes would be taken but that they would not be circulated. MS said that summaries of the notes would be made and circulated at a later date. We said we would rather be able to see what was being discussed.
MS suggested that we should be involved with the boaters and other users working group (a widened version of the Better Relations Group) which would be more informal. MS said that CRT has quarterly meetings with other boating groups. We said we would like to meet like this too. MS and SA said that they hoped to arrange the first of these meetings would take place the first or second week of July, tba.
Facilities and mooring rings
There was a lengthy discussion about facilities, setting out clearly that there is a present need and action here should be a priority. We said that we are happy to do work on this and pass our findings onto CRT but that we would need information to help with this. SA agreed to provide us with a map of facilities in London and a map of the towpath containing information on condition and whether it is concrete or grass.
We also asked for what the main criteria are for assessing if a site is suitable for mooring rings or other facilities. We wanted to use this information to ensure that our suggestions were more likely to be suitable. Some examples were offered by CRT however MS made the caveat that each site could have its complexities and that it would be difficult to share all the relevant information with us as some of that information may not exist or certain limiting factors might not become apparent until further investigations are carried out.
SA explained that one consideration was how the local authorities would react, in particular around mooring rings. CRT has identified officer and elected stakeholders in the relevant London boroughs to be contacted during the strategy, some of which they have worked closely with in the past but there are others who the Trust do not yet have a close contact/ relationship with. We offered to assist with setting up CRT with local councillors.
Third parties were also seen as a way to getting facilities. These can include existing businesses (e.g., Black Horse pub at Greenford putting a bin in their car park, following a request by CRT and paid for by them) and developers of new sites. Development sites were seen as a good opportunity for facilities such as taps and elsan which require plumbing. SA said that CRT regularly with councils around getting some of the Community Infrastructure Levy from developers and that CRT would look to maintain existing moorings and facilities at development sites. We raised the example of the Greystar development in Greenford as something for them to look into and generally said that we expected them to take a robust line with developers around moorings and facilities.
SA indicated that it would be a good idea for us to try and build relationships with, e.g., canal side pubs to see if their sites can be used for facilities. SA said that bin collections were relatively cheap. MS flagged that sites can change owners which can cause problems particularly when new owners or landlords withdraw permission for the Trust to use their sites for refuse sites. SA and MS agreed to cycle the tow path with HB to look at where more casual mooring rings might be possible for CRT to install.
We said that it was important facilities are well signed. In particular, it was worth making it clear where facilities next to private moorings are for public use. SA said we should let him know where signs could be useful.
We asked about budget. MS said that there was not currently a separate budget for the strategy however when there are specific proposals they will be making a business case for any additional funding that is required to implement these. Any request for funding would need to demonstrate that additional expenditure helps contribute to ‘maintaining and sustaining income’. SA said that there was already an existing annual budget for maintaining and improving facilities. SA could not give exact details however gave an estimate that it may be worth looking for three sites for mooring rings and three sites for significant facilities (i.e., not just bins).
We asked about where there are plans to restrict mooring times. MS said that nothing had been decided but suggested that it was likely that short stay locations would kept to a minimum and be at locations that were felt appropriate to accommodate visiting boats and those navigating. Another example was ‘stop and shop’ (usually 4 hours max) short stay mooring beside supermarkets. MS said that any reduction in mooring times would need to go through the ‘Short Term Mooring Framework’ which can be found on the CRT website and that before any changes were considered there would be consultation and enhanced data collection to provide evidence to support any proposed change any stay times. We highlighted the recent consultations on the Grand Union as not being very high quality and it was agreed that any consultation in London would be more detailed.
MS said that CRT would look to try and not remove towpath moorings when putting in either residential or short stay moorings but if that was proposed the strategy would try to look to provide alternative provision elsewhere. Despite this, he indicated that this was a strategy with many partners and that there would be give and take on all sides to find a balanced outcome.
The Towpath Gathering is on Saturday 11 June at 12 noon in Victoria Park at the furthest western gate of the park (Canal Gate).
It’s been about a year since the Canal and River Trust (CRT) started its policy of threatening to evict or actually evicting people in the travelling boater community for their distance travelled or their pattern of movement. The number of boats without home moorings has declined since the time the policy was brought in.
The policy has put pressure on the community. But many boat dwellers stand defiant against CRT’s policy and demand more mooring rings and facilities.
Unity of our community is key and as such we are organising a celebration of the boater community at our annual Towpath Gathering.
There will be music, entertaining acts, spoken word, film showing, speeches, and arts&crafts from the boater community.
As if that wasn’t enough, there will a wide range of trade boats!
The record boat, jewellery boat, cafe boat, poetry boat, museum boat and the Village Butty will all be there and possibly more.
The Towpath Gathering is on:
Saturday 11 June at 12 noon at the furthest western end of Victoria Park on the canal (Canal Gate).
Please come, enjoy and celebrate the boater community with us.
Boat dwellers protest outside Canal & River Trust’s offices
On Tuesday 10th May between 12pm and 2pm about 90 boat dwellers without permanent moorings took part in demonstrations outside Canal & River Trust’s headquarters in Milton Keynes while 15 protested at the charity’s licensing office in Leeds. They were there to express their opposition to the charity’s punitive and unlawful enforcement action against boats without a permanent mooring.
Since May 2015, Canal & River Trust has been evicting or threatening to evict boat dwellers without a permanent mooring. The number of boats without a permanent mooring has declined since then; in May 2015, Canal & River Trust stated that there were around 5,600 boats without a permanent mooring. In a recent statement, Canal & River Trust reported that figure is now 5,281. The National Bargee Travellers Association (NBTA) believes this reduction in boats without a permanent mooring is the result of Canal & River Trust’s new policy.
The right to use and live on a boat without a permanent mooring is enshrined in the British Waterways Act 1995. It is not within Canal & River Trust’s legal powers to enforce its draconian new ‘rules’, which set requirements that go beyond the 1995 Act. Yet the Trust has stated that it is very unlikely that a boater who travels within a range of less than 20 miles is complying with these ‘rules’. In addition boaters who have not travelled in a linear fashion but have turned round, for example to access services, have been threatened with eviction. The NBTA is aware of cases where boaters have travelled much more than 20 miles but have still been served with eviction notices.
Canal & River Trust’s enforcement policies are vague and inconsistently imposed. It uses these policies to reduce the number of full 12 month licences by restricting licences of those it considers non-compliant to 6 months or refusing to renew licences altogether.
Nicole has lived on a boat in the Milton Keynes area for 25 years.
“I have lived on the canal for 25 years, which is longer than I have lived
on land. Canal & River Trust’s new policies have made life so difficult. I
live on the canal because I love the community, wildlife, peacefulness,
diversity of mooring places and have truly made it my home and way of
life. I will be attending the protest because the rules have become
ridiculous and Canal & River Trust are not listening to those it concerns
but making life so difficult and stressful. Also I take offence to the
derogatory term a Canal & River Trust member of staff used about
liveaboard boaters and this issue needs addressing.”
We were upset by the report of comments by your Relationship, Policy and Strategy Manager for boating, Matthew Symonds, in referring to live-aboard boaters as ‘gits’, especially when he has been a senior spokesperson for your organisation.
This is at a time when your policies are putting much pressure on a section of live-aboards. Many feel that CRT views live-aboard boaters as an irritation that needs to be removed from the waterways. It does not bode well for CRT that a staff member with the role of managing relationships has been reported as making such a derogatory remark.
We therefore call upon CRT to carry out an investigation into this incident, with the involvement of boater groups such as the National Bargee Travellers Association. Depending on the outcome of the investigation we demand that CRT takes action to ensure that an incident like this does not happen again.
National Bargee Travellers Association
We gave with people signing it in at CRT Headquarters in Milton Keynes on Tuesday 10 May
A volunteer organisation formed in 2009 campaigning and providing advice for itinerant boat dwellers on Britain’s inland and coastal waterways