Friday, 19 June 2015

Young People on the Inland Waterways.

MICK'S MUSINGS—is an occasional series of observations of life along the canal and river network. It gives this writers perceptions of what he sees, hears and learns from other people and various other sources.

You may remember that last year the Canal and River Trust decided to look at the reasons why, young people are not being attracted to the Inland Waterways. You like me will also have noticed that the whole concept of understanding and getting to grips with the issue, like all the 'independent' IWA boater representatives has since gone very very quiet. 

Maybe that is because the reasons that do attract younger people to the canal, do not fit into the aged related - myopia of blurred vision - that the 'oldies' hold for the future of the inland waterways.
The problem is that young people are actually attracted to the canals. However, the attraction for the young is as a place to live, whilst trying to manage on a restricted budget. They want to be able to work and raise a family. So that means that by necessity their movement are going to be limited, because of the need of access to transport and schools. 
They are not attracted to the canals as a leisure pastime. For one simple and very obvious reason. Their disposable income such as it is, is limited to providing the necessities of life. This is not a widespread phenomenon covering all the canal network, its actually a quite restricted issue. Mostly to the places where bricks and mortar rented accommodation, comes at a very high premium.  Jobs come at minimum wage levels and sometimes associated with zero hours contracts. 

Therein lies the real nub of the issue. 

The trite quote trotted out by many of the older generation of boater is 'get yourself a mooring.' However, these are the very same places where the cost of a mooring is also sky high. The availability may be there, but, there is no such thing as socially affordable mooring. The recent 'joke consultation' into the moorings bidding process (a bit of lightweight tinkering where everything that would have made a real change was ruled out at the start) has not done anything to help. 

Yet, some of these young boaters are working in vitally essential services amongst which Social services and the NHS are well known. Both services we need more and more as my short sighted generation of boaters gets forever older and increasingly myopic and reliant on such services.

There are an eclectic mix of interesting people along the canal. Having worked all my life with young people of a University age grouping.  I can say that all that I have met, are not the 'state funded scroungers' so beloved of the current crop of lack lustre politicians. They are not looking to get a handout or something for nothing. They are in the main both young, well educated and sometimes working in a professional capacity. More than anything else, what does strike me is the camaraderie displayed by them for each other.  

It reminds me of my childhood days when neighbours talked to each other. Everyone knew each other and everyone watched out for each other. These are 'old fashioned traits' that should be easily recognised and welcomed by the 'older boating generation'. However the reality today is that the older generation of boaters do not play any meaningful part in today's fast changing world. The young and the old have absolutely nothing in common and both are at different ends of the boating spectrum.  

In a few years time when my generation has gone. What will our legacy be - that we are leaving behind for the long term future of the inland waterways. This polarisation in attitude is very dramatic and some young people see this as being a 'us and them' issue. A place where 'class of boater' prejudices are played out.

We are all well aware of the changes being made to the terms and conditions of the licence.  We are well aware of the underlying reason for such changes. The real question is, are we now cutting of the future of the inland waterways. Because some in my generation who are pulling the strings, don't have the ability to recognise that times have changed. Its a different world out there to the days of 'you never had it so good, full employment and we were welcoming people from the commonwealth to fill huge numbers of vacancies.'

The weird thing is that boaters seem to have accepted the view that there are two 'classes', the employed and the unemployed. Wake up, smell the coffee, they are one and the same! Few people go through life from start to finish with no dependence on the state at any time at all. And few people go through life from start to finish with no employment at all and entirely reliant on state support. Those that do are those unfortunate people with life long disabilities. Not all disabilities are the visible kind. Would you want to exchange places with someone who is disabled for their government benefits.

Most people move from one state to another for a myriad of different reasons. Ill health, redundancy, care responsibilities for a loved one, living in an economically depressed area with seasonal or other intermittent work being the only thing that's available. There are so many conditions which are not under our control. Unemployment or incapacity are really quite normal features for certain periods of all our lives. No 'them' no 'us', just people, just boaters.

The young boaters are actually becoming much better organised and have some positive ideas for addressing what is seen by them as another round of social cleansing. Recently I read a very interesting quote on social media. Which goes some way towards partly addressing the much needed equitable solution. And at the same time a very profound challenge to the Canal and River Trust.

'This probably represent the first time the cut has been a place for families since the working boats went. Perhaps here is where we need to look for the future health of our waterways.'

My solution would be to start with bringing younger people into the management hierarchy of the trust. At all levels. Starting with a clear out of the old guard trustees. It's time for them to go - their time has been and now its gone.  Imagine what a breath of fresh air that could bring. The young bringing with them intellectual vitality, enthusiasm and acute awareness of what the real issues are. The problem for the trust is that its a geriatric nursing home for faded reputations. Its an old BW boys club, snoozing its way towards oblivion. The wrong people, in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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