Your Canal Boat, CIC connects Londoners with London’s canals. We identify publicly owned canal side locations suitable for public gathering, and activate them with educational and cultural programming. We show private citizens how to work with Borough government and the Canal and River Trust to become stewards of these sites and manage them in perpetuity. In the process we forge vital community connections, create Covid-secure venues for the future, and share best practices to maximise the utility of this world class resource for health, education and positive economic outcomes.
In 2016 London was booming. Flats were going up. Pubs and live music venues were closing down. A Task Force created by the Mayor´s office that year tracked and attempted to stem the crisis. Where were the world´s aspiring musicians to perform?
A group of canal enthusiasts proposed creation of Your Canal Boat Community Interest Company (CIC), a grant eligible vehicle to activate the city’s 100-mile canal network with music and theater. Identify canalside locations with suitable acoustics and room for people to gather. Stage pilot events to demonstrate feasibility. And share how we did it with others to follow suit, generating employment and turning the city’s serpentine marine network into a string of open air venues, providing up and coming musicians with opportunities to debut material, build confidence and gain followings. In January 2020, we launched Your Canal Boat Community Interest Community to do all that.
And then came Covid. Weekly “cosy concerts” we’d begun hosting inside our flagship vessel Molly Anna moved online. Like everyone else in the entertainment and hospitality industries, our lives went on hold. After a year, things began slowly opening up. Gatherings of 6 were permitted. And then 30. If we couldn’t have a big event, at least we’d have a small one. “Festivals” were still banned, but “picnics” weren’t. So we staged the “Mary Seacole Picnic”, probably the first time in two hundred years that a postage-stamp sized park at the junction of the Grand Union Canal, the Great Western Railroad and Stubbs Lane had seen music and theater.
Our first proof of concept became a model for future programs: Identify a place with outstanding characteristics. Develop health and safety plans to satisfy overlapping Borough and Canal and River Trust jurisdictions. Demonstrate insurance coverage. Make all those records available for anyone who wanted to follow in our footsteps.
With tiny steps we tottered forward. A 2500 pound grant from the Westway Trust allowed us to debut performance in Ladbroke Grove, at a site we call the Sainsburys Stumpery. With a thousand pounds from the Canal and River Trust we turned a desolate courtyard at 243 Ealing Road into a place where people could meet their neighbours, in many cases for the fist time ever. Another 3,000 pounds from the Canal and River Trust resulted in a similar transformation at Tottenham Hale.
With no funding at all we posted up at Kings Cross the Christmas of 2021, intending to prove that the simple allure of a canal boat and stage was enough to draw artists out, to play in the cold — if necessary — with no compensation. We set out a whiteboard for people to sign up and who steps up but Pete Doherty! In an interview he explains what brought him there, the magic of the canal and how playing on it is “what he imagined life should always be.”
Christmas 2022 found us there again, hosted by Google this time.
In the wake of Covid, our original mission is more relevant than ever. We know how authorities will respond if and when a novel virus reoccurs: indoor venues will be shuttered. But life will go on. And canalside locations, vetted by Your Canal Boat will be one place where people will be able to safely gather. If you’re an artist looking to perform, a sponsor looking for unique visibility for your products, or a representative of your community looking to create a safe space for residents to re-engage after the isolating time we’ve come through, we invite you to get in touch.