Falkirk father and son steering £250,000 fundraising campaign

At the helm...John Sime has been a member of Seagull Trust Cruises in Falkirk for 12 years. Earlier this year, he became the Trust's chairman. (Pic: Scott Louden)At the helm...John Sime has been a member of Seagull Trust Cruises in Falkirk for 12 years. Earlier this year, he became the Trust's chairman. (Pic: Scott Louden)
At the helm...John Sime has been a member of Seagull Trust Cruises in Falkirk for 12 years. Earlier this year, he became the Trust's chairman. (Pic: Scott Louden)
The estate which is now home to Seagull Trust Cruises’ Falkirk boathouse used to be John Sime’s playground when he was a slip of a lad.

At that time, the Union Canal that runs through Bantaskine Estate was a muddy mess, strewn with weeds and rubbish.

John then watched from the sidelines as his dad Jamie became a founding member of the Seagull Trust in Falkirk, shortly after the Ratho branch was first founded in 1978.

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In 1983, the Falkirk branch launched its first boat – The Govan Seagull.

Founding member...Jamie Sime joined the Trust when it was first founded and remains its vice chairman, even though he is now a sprightly 85 years young!Founding member...Jamie Sime joined the Trust when it was first founded and remains its vice chairman, even though he is now a sprightly 85 years young!
Founding member...Jamie Sime joined the Trust when it was first founded and remains its vice chairman, even though he is now a sprightly 85 years young!

Thousands of people with disabilities have since enjoyed free boat trips along the canal network, initially the Forth and Clyde, then the Union when the boathouse opened in 1996.

Having enjoyed the regeneration of the canals, John decided to get on board too – joining the trust 12 years ago and becoming its chairman earlier this year.

Incredibly, his dad Jamie, who is now aged 85, is still the vice-chairman!

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And John has also roped in his wife Marjory, an artist, who was instrumental in setting up the Trust’s gallery in the Howgate Centre.

Enjoying a Seagull Trust Cruise are mums Samantha Giudici with Lennon (9) and Isobel Lamb with Eva (8). (Pic: Scott Louden)Enjoying a Seagull Trust Cruise are mums Samantha Giudici with Lennon (9) and Isobel Lamb with Eva (8). (Pic: Scott Louden)
Enjoying a Seagull Trust Cruise are mums Samantha Giudici with Lennon (9) and Isobel Lamb with Eva (8). (Pic: Scott Louden)

A percentage of proceeds from artwork sales helps to power the charity’s daily boat trips from April to October.

Now the Simes are hoping to steer the Trust on another voyage, with John championing a £250,000 fundraising campaign.

This would enable a dry dock to be created for boat repairs at the Trust’s boathouse and headquarters in South Bantaskine Estate.

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It would save lengthy trips to Kirkintilloch and Ratho during the winter for chief engineer Sam Anderson and the maintenance team to carry out essential repairs on the Trust’s two wheelchair accessible passenger boats, The Govan Seagull and the Barr Seagull, funded by the Barr Foundation, which came into service in 2006.

Jan Grant enjoys a trip to the Falkirk Wheel with granddaughter Rhianna Grant (6). (Pic: Scott Louden)Jan Grant enjoys a trip to the Falkirk Wheel with granddaughter Rhianna Grant (6). (Pic: Scott Louden)
Jan Grant enjoys a trip to the Falkirk Wheel with granddaughter Rhianna Grant (6). (Pic: Scott Louden)

John (59) explained: “We are saving up to build a dry dock but we estimate that it will cost £250,000.

“It could take us up to four years to raise that amount but it will be worth it to have our own dry dock here.

“We’d love to hear from anyone who’d be willing to lend a hand.

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“The boathouse was funded by public donations so we’re hoping locals will get behind us once again.”

The Howgate Centre has been a huge supporter of Seagull Trust Cruises, allowing John's wife Marjory to set up an exhibition gallery in the mall.The Howgate Centre has been a huge supporter of Seagull Trust Cruises, allowing John's wife Marjory to set up an exhibition gallery in the mall.
The Howgate Centre has been a huge supporter of Seagull Trust Cruises, allowing John's wife Marjory to set up an exhibition gallery in the mall.

BAE Systems has long been a supporter of the Trust’s work, with its hungry workers raising a staggering £25,360 in the last six years.

John said: “BAE Systems offered to raise money via its tuck shop; it has raised an incredible sum.

“Other local organisations have also been generous in their support, such as the Rotary and Round Table.

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“And second year pupils at Falkirk High donated £3000 in June from their Youth and Philanthropy Initiative (YPI).

“Local people have always been very generous – we couldn’t do it without them.”

The Trust also couldn’t operate without the support of its 200 members and the many volunteers who give of their time to man cruises.

Each day, from April to October, it needs a lead skipper, five fellow skippers and crew to steer passengers on half and full day trips on the Union Canal.

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Each boat can take 12 passengers, with space for up to four wheelchairs.

There is a lift to provide easy wheelchair access, a disabled toilet and moveable seats – to suit all parties.

Many groups benefit from the free canal cruises, from Alzheimer Scotland to nursing homes, special needs schools to families.

So it’s little wonder there are just a few spaces left in September and October.

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The Trust – whose seagull logo represents freedom – has come a long way in the last 40 years.

And John, who is a private landlord when he’s not a lead skipper, hopes to steer it successfully for many more.

He added: “People always leave with a smile, having seen things that they might not normally be able to enjoy.

“It gives them a unique experience, a wee bit peace and tranquility and some local knowledge thrown in.

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“When I was a boy this used to be my playground. The canal was full of rubbish then but it’s come a long way.

“If we don’t use the canals, they’ll just fill with weeds and rubbish again.

“Luckily, I don’t think that will happen now – I passed five boats this morning alone. It’s great to see so much traffic on the canal.”

As we left, another group was preparing to set sail – leaving John just enough time to grab a sandwich before taking the helm.

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What was once his overgrown playground is clearly now a thriving transport hub for people who richly deserve a day out.

Kelpies cruises this summer

Seagull Trust Cruises Falkirk branch operates six different cruise packages for people with physical and mental disabilities.

There are two round trips from the boathouse – a one-hour and a two-hour long cruise along the Union Canal. There is also a five-hour round trip option from the boathouse. And there are three cruises which also take in the Falkirk Wheel – one sailing to the wheel, another returning from it and a five-hour trip to the landmark and back again.

During all these cruises, the crew – who are all volunteers – serve up tea, coffee and soft drinks, also free of charge.

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Anyone who has a physical or mental disability is welcome to sail and many families also book parties on board.

Local groups or people with disabilities who would like to book a free trip with Seagull Trust Cruises should call 07722 342913, email [email protected] or visit the website www.seagulltrust.org.uk/falkirk.

Cruises are mostly powered by generous public donations.

But another major revenue stream is Seagull Canal Cruising which offers trips on its adapted, fully accessible boat, the Wooden Spoon Seagull.

While it also serves as a corporate events and education centre, this summer it is running Kelpies Café Cruises to raise more funds for the Trust.

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From July to September, cruises will take place every Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 11am, 1pm and 3pm daily.

Enjoy a one-hour cruise with tea, coffee or juice and cakes and biscuits for just £9 for adults, £7 for over 60s and £5 per child (under fives free).

To book, call 07429 602293 or visit www.seagullcanalcruising.co.uk/kelpies.

The Wooden Spoon Seagull can also be hired for celebrations, events and meetings for up to 35 passengers.

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