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.
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 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.
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”.