All Aboard the Ellen Gee
St Paul’s Community Development Trust has, since 1973, worked alongside Balsall Heath and Birmingham communities, providing education, recreation and life-long learning to some of the most vulnerable groups within society. Situated in one of England’s top 10% deprived wards, the Trust aims to improve opportunities and quality of life for all accessing their services.
The Trust launched its Crowd Funding campaign on Saturday 6th May at the Farm Open Day, kindly supported by Roger Godsiff MP for Hall Green Constituency. The Trust needs to raise £30,000 by the end of June. The funding will enable the Trust to undertake a major refurbishment of the interior of the boat to fully modernise the facilities, and on completion, will enable the Trust to give families, young people, the community and volunteers the chance to be part of a unique experience in the middle of Birmingham.
The Trust was able to secure funding to have the boat’s exterior painted in the new St Paul’s Colours. The Ellen Gee accommodates 12 at any one time however the current layout is restrictive with fixed bunks and does not lend itself to group work.
The Trust had transfer of ownership of the Ellen Gee, from Birmingham Youth Services, in December 2010. Youth and community groups have had the opportunity to experience education, environment, residential and leisure activities aboard the 70ft narrow boat, moored at Hockley Port.
Hundreds of young people in Birmingham will have fond memories of these experiences aboard what was then named Youth Afloat, along with the skipper John Welsh.
As part of this project the Trust wants to provide an Outdoor Educational experience for school children and especially to give those pupils who have difficulty coping in a traditional classroom or educational environment, alternative ways of learning. It will give children the opportunity to connect with nature, learn about the City’s heritage, and give those who may need the quiet space to be nurtured and supported to learn.
This project will provide young children and families with an experience they are unlikely to have had prior to going to St Paul’s or from living in the city. Many of the families already associated with St Paul’s and the local community do not have the opportunity to go beyond their neighbourhood. Having the boat available, moored less than 3 miles away, enables St Paul’s to provide a different experience. Being able to provide residential opportunities but close by, provides reassurance to local parents who are anxious about their children staying away from home.
The Ellen Gee Narrowboat will form part of the Trust’s Health and Well-being services that also include: a city farm; community centre and children’s centre. Families have access to a package of support and suite of services to support their different health needs both physical, emotional and psychological.
The Trust are striving to bring people together, through active participation, those in the community experiencing loneliness, isolation, socially excluded or just needing peace and time away. The learning of new skills, through the potential volunteering opportunities on the boat, helps develop confidence and potentially employment. Taking part in volunteering helps with physical health as it gets you out of the house and active which, and being more physically healthy, reduces stress. Building social connections and meeting people helps to relieve stress and anxiety which helps to reduce depression. The experience also supports emotional well-being as it helps to develop self-esteem and self-worth and is mentally stimulating. Being healthier and happier reduces the likelihood of developing long term, debilitating illnesses and therefore reducing the demand or the need for medical support.
This project will enable the Trust to support the most vulnerable members of the community who present with many personal challenges. Integral to their health and wellbeing services the Ellen Gee Narrowboat will be a safe haven, reducing stress and depression over time, providing an alternative ‘therapy’ to mainstream health services.
Alison Moore, Head of Children’s Services, expressed that ‘This is an exciting time for the Trust as we expand our services, creating a complete Health and Wellbeing model for users incorporating not only the Narrow Boat but our City Farm and Community Hub.’
We would love to hear from anyone who has past history with the Ellen Gee. Maybe you were a teenager when John Welsh was the skipper. Do you have more recent stories to tell?
You might be interested in volunteering on the boat, let us know or if you have some time to spare and have skills to offer you could consider offering your time as part of the reward scheme with the crowdfunding campaign. If you are a group or organisation who would like to hear about hiring the boat, please get in touch.
We are raising £30,000 for this major project. We encourage you to go to the crowdfunding site and watch the video and hear first-hand why the Ellen Gee is so important for Families in Birmingham.
Alison Moore – Head of Children’s Services
St Paul’s Community Development Trust
0121 464 4376