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Finding wellbeing on our waterways

People in South Leicestershire can now enjoy an afternoon of walking, canoeing or paddleboarding on the Grand Union Canal as part of a brand-new initiative. Our Waterways Wellbeing sessions aim to help people improve their mental health, wellbeing and social welfare. With Mental Health Awareness Week happening right now, it’s the perfect time to shine a light on this incredible project.

Two canoes being paddled down the canal

The project kicked off in South Leicestershire last spring, thanks to the support of local partners. With the Grand Union Canal as the focal point, the scheme offers people with serious mental health issues a raft of different activities, from water sports and wellbeing walks, to craft workshops and narrowboat trips. We caught up with one of our attendees, Steve, to find out a little more about this ground-breaking initiative.

A couple walking by the side of a canal

Steve came across the project by chance. His wife, who suffers from PTSD, was referred to us by her local GP and attended one of our paddleboarding sessions. Steve joined her for a little moral support and was struck by how much his wife benefited from the experience.

“She enjoyed it so much,” he says, “and I could see the positive impact on her after just one session; it helped calm her down and reduced her anxiety.”

At the time Steve was struggling with his own issues; he was becoming increasingly anxious about his wife's mental health and dealing with mounting stress at work. So when his wife suggested he join her for one of our sessions, he gladly agreed.

Steve had never been on a paddleboard before and at first, he was a little nervous; but with a little encouragement from our volunteers he soon found his feet. He enjoyed the experience so much he decided to try out a few of our other activities: “I've lost count of the number of sessions I've taken part in,” he tells us. “I've tried paddleboarding and canoeing, and I go along for the walking sessions each week. This week, I'm attending the bird box-making session.”

a group of people doing yoga on paddleboards on the canal

Participating in the programme has given Steve a new lease of life. He feels happier, healthier and less anxious: “It's helped me enormously. Each session or new activity gives me more confidence, and this confidence means I can help others who may be nervous too.”

A big part of the initiative is bringing people together, helping them combat social isolation and encouraging them to forge new friendships. Sessions are fairly intimate, with usually around six to eight people taking part, depending on the activity.

“Helping people feel included is important and I find it incredibly rewarding,” Steve tells us. “I've lived in the area for most of my life and I've found that I have connections with lots of people within the group. At the end of each session, we always enjoy a hot drink and a chat by the canal.”

A view from above of people making table crafts

For Steve, our Waterways Wellbeing project has been truly transformative. So what would he say to someone thinking about attending one of our sessions? “I would definitely recommend it. The nice company and natural environment are very relaxing, and you quickly feel the health benefits. Attending has helped my stress levels around work, and there has also been a big improvement in my physical health.”

Steve has found the sessions so rewarding, he's now training as a volunteer walk leader so he can help others like him in the future. “I think far too many of us accept stress when often, there are quite simple solutions, such as physical activity in nature and being around others who understand.”

As Steve's story shows, wellbeing is about the simple things; connecting with others, staying active, noticing nature around us, taking time to learn about our waterway heritage, and giving back to help care for our canals.

In time, and with the right funding, we hope to roll out similar projects across the country. And you can help others to find wellbeing today by buying one of our Well-B toys.

Made from eight plastic bottles this soft plush toy is 100% recycled and is simple way to support our efforts to bring health and happiness by water to everyone.

Last Edited: 28 April 2023

photo of a location on the canals
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