Re-Union Canal Boats Healthspace project changing lifestyle and outlook of Falkirk’s isolated

Healthspace participants and organisers enjoy weekly sails along the Union Canal. Pictures: Michael Gillen
Healthspace participants and organisers enjoy weekly sails along the Union Canal. Pictures: Michael Gillen

A canal-based social enterprise project which aims to steer isolated individuals in a more positive direction is on the look-out for new members to get on board.

From picking up boating skills to learning how to lead a better lifestyle, the Healthspace initiative run by Re-Union Canal Boats enables hard-to-reach people from a variety of backgrounds across Falkirk district to come together as one big crew and help each other out.

Re-Union Canal Boats is based at Lock 16 in Camelon

Re-Union Canal Boats is based at Lock 16 in Camelon

Those to have benefitted from the sessions include recovering alcoholics and drug users, people with learning difficulties and the long-term unemployed.

Operating from a hub at Lock 16 in Camelon, the group takes part in weekly barge outings to the Falkirk Wheel and Bonnybridge, which participants and volunteers organise themselves, as well as walks and bike rides along the scenic route.

A 40-strong pool of Re-Union Canal Boats volunteers support the project to function smoothly, many of whom are of retirement age and able to dispense handy pieces of advice to the younger generations involved.

READ MORE: Who are Re-Union Canal Boats and what do they do?

Lesley Young of Re-Union Canal Boats

Lesley Young of Re-Union Canal Boats

Lesley Young, Re-Union Canal Boats’ development manager, feels the intergenerational contact Healthspace offers is its greatest asset.

She explained: “This is a family here. We facilitate people having something positive to do in their community.

“It’s a great way of keeping fit and we have great banter in the outdoors, which is key.

“Since I got involved five years ago, through Falkirk Community Foundation, I saw the opportunity to use the canals and boating as a hook to engage people from all sorts of different groups.

“They all interact extremely positively with one another even though the only things they’ve got in common are boats, canals, bikes and walking.

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“We have a range of ages, going from 15 up to people in their 70s. We’ve got a lot of guys that have led quite chaotic lives and have been in and out of prison.

“But they’re focusing on what we do here at the canal and the rest of it just comes naturally.

“The biggest part is the reduction in isolation. These might be the only people they speak to all week.”

The Healthspace project runs for a period of 12 weeks at a time, with members meeting each Monday, and will continue until March of next year.

However, it’s not the only programme Re-Union Canal Boats staff offer. Far from it.

Employees and the dedicated team of volunteers offer their services across every day of the week to support initiatives such as Lock Keeping, school work experience placements for pupils with behavioural difficulties, employability workshops and Climate Challenge-led events.

Day boat hire trips for up to eight people generate income and therefore enable the aforementioned programmes to flourish.

As well as the established activites, plus an ongoing joint partnership with a local football club, the social enterprise also has other irons in the fire.

Lesley continued: “This year we’ve got a partnership with Camelon Juniors. We’re situated on-site and we’re a daily presence, supporting their community activities.

“We also take kids from local high schools on work experience, all of whom have stayed with us.

“These are disengaged 15-year-old boys who won’t sit in a classroom.

“It could be a behavioural or a disciplinary issue but we and the school find they are better off coming to somewhere like here as we provide the chance for them to get involved in good intergenerational work.

“Our Lock Keeping project allows local people to get their hands on what is their historical asset and we encourage other members of the community to take care of their own canal.

“We’ll also be welcoming back kids from Falkirk High for Steps Along The Canal who are our young canal ambassadors.”

As well as recruiting more participants, organisers are just as eager to add to their burgeoning squad of volunteers.

And while Re-Union Canal Boats has built up strong ties with various referral organisations, including housing associations, organisers are equally as open to being contacted by willing individuals directly.

To do so, visit www.re-union.org.uk or search for Re-Union Canal Boats on Facebook or @reunioncanal on Twitter.

Emails can be sent to lesley@re-union.org.uk.