My role: Waterways Chaplain

“It’s rewarding going to bed at night knowing you’ve made a real difference to somebody's life,” says Hertfordshire chaplain Lorraine Newman.

We're there for anybody using the towpath, anybody that has any kind of need. There are quite a lot of people around with mental health problems who just like to talk to us. We help people when their boats break down or if they have money difficulties. Hardly any people on boats have a postcode. That gives them problems getting mail and it can be difficult getting a doctor or dentist, or applying for benefits.

I always carry a windlass. We help people with locks as we go along. Most boaters are used to opening their own, but there are holiday-makers or elderly boaters that need help. We have sleeveless gilets that have 'waterways chaplain' on the back in big letters and lots of pockets. I also carry a notebook, mobile phone, torch and vouchers for food banks.

You need to be a good listener. I help people in all sorts of ways, but when they are interviewed after I've given them support, the first thing they always say is that I sit and listen to them. In this life, with people rushing about, there is a lack of people listening. That's the most important thing, that people can sit and talk and know whatever you say won't be passed on.

Our biggest challenge is facing new problems. There is some training, but really you are learning on the job. People can be suicidal and I have had people say that I’ve saved their lives. Just being there makes a huge difference.

It's great how the boating community rally round. I work in the area I live and do most of my own boating. People are on continuous cruising licenses, so move every 14 days, but tend to stay in the same area.The people I serve are my friends now. I can walk along the towpath and I see lots of people and I'm always being invited for cups of tea. Very often, a boater will have a problem with their boat and six others will try and fix it. If they get nowhere, then I'll call someone out.

The rivers Lee and Stort are beautiful. You can go through the middle of a town and it's as if you are in the countryside. Some people have beautiful arrays of flowers on their boats and there was an elderly boater who loved planting things. As I go along I know wherever his boat's been, because you see a sunflower growing.

We bought a narrowboat five years ago and we called it Annie & Walt after a boat that my great-great-grandparents worked on in 1901.

Interview: Chris Mugan

Last date edited: 5 March 2015

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