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News from The Boathouse Youth

Canal Residential 2023

During the February half-term a group of 40 teenagers buckled up their buoyancy aids for a 7-night boating expedition along the Grand Union Canal from Braunston, Daventry to Leicester. A spectacular route incorporating the famous Foxton and Watford Locks which we expertly navigated in our four 70ft hired narrowboats each berthing 12 individuals.

Foxton Locks
Foxton Locks

However, the scenery isn’t what’s important to us – it’s the participatory and relational practices that young people are involved in that floats our boat! This project has been entirely youth-led from start to finish, enabling youngsters to take charge of their own learning. The surface level stuff is impactful on its own: young people learnt how to budget, menu-plan, cook and keep on top of other domestic duties without much fuss. However, the real learning takes place deeper within, as young people explored the development of their socio-emotional skills throughout the week and explored how this development impacted on their wider decision making processes and behaviours.

The Senior Plus boys creating their rotas for the week on the first evening of the residential.
The Senior Plus boys creating their rotas for the week on the first evening of the residential.

It’s the participatory and relational practices that young people are involved in that floats our boat.

A group of young people at the tiller deck of a narrowboat.
The Senior boys on the tiller-deck of their narrowboat in a lock.

The environment of a Narrow Boat is inescapable and this is what makes it unique. Young people and Youth Workers are required to exist in such a small confined space with one another for a reasonably long period of time. This means that issues have to be addressed and relationships are tested. Young people have to talk things through with each other and with leaders to find resolutions. Each day ended with a full session of reflective practice where the crew could explore what learning they’d benefited from. Discussions around communication skills and how best to resolve conflict and problems when living on top of each other and being tired.

Life on the canal boat can be stressful but also fun at the same time. You’ve got to keep on top of yours cabins, clean the beds and make the meals… but also you get to go to the park and have a laugh with you mates.

Martyn, Aged 14
Shopping on a budget with a live tally on the self-scanners help the youngsters to keep on track.
Shopping on a budget with a live tally on the self-scanners help the youngsters to keep on track.

There’s no denying that the practicalities of the residential need to take precedence at certain times. Young people were responsible for all of the cooking, all of the cleaning and navigating the boat through more than 50 locks. This meant that the group needed to calculated things like how many chicken breasts they’d need to feed a boat, how many pints of milk would be required for cereal and how much coffee we’d likely need. Mid-week shops were often more than a mile’s walk away from the boats’ mooring points so physical demands were definitely made.

Pete Crossley, our Deputy CEO, said “There has been some really intense learning taking place this week, and this is such a unique environment for it to happen”.

Young people operating the locks as we descend at Watford.
Young people operating the locks as we descend at Watford.
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