Only 28% of boys and 15% of girls meet the government's recommended level of physical activity1 and 37% of young people aged 11-18 are overweight or obese. Working to create the canoe trail aims to get the youngsters active and provide them with new life skills which could help them gain employment in the future, in the face of 21% youth unemployment across the country.
Over the next five years 15-24 year olds and their families will be recruited to create social action squads along the length of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal and Aire and Calder Navigation, connecting communities along the route to each other and their local environment and waterways.
Learning outside the classroom is proven to tackle social mobility and be of particular help to young people from disadvantaged background, increasing their self-esteem and raising levels of attainment. It's also been proven that spending time outdoors can improve a person's mental health and wellbeing.
The trail will be the longest of its kind in the UK, first launching in Merseyside and over five years stretching to Humberside. Along the way it will connect towns and cities including Liverpool, Wigan, Blackburn, Burnley, Leeds, Skipton and Goole.
The project is being developed thanks to a generous £1.3 million donation from The Desmond Foundation. The Desmond Family Canoe Trail will connect some of the north of England's most deprived communities including Wigan and Burnley where youth unemployment and child obesity are well above the national average. Along with designing the trail the young people will organise and run a year-round programme of activity for their community including canoe taster sessions. Physical improvements to the route including planting new community gardens and habitats along the trail will also take place.
The project has the support of British Canoeing and Canoe England.
Amy Irwin, 18, has been a volunteer for the Canal & River Trust since 2012 and adopted a stretch of canal near her family home. She said: “I live opposite the Leeds & Liverpool Canal and love the view from my bedroom window but many young people don't even know there's a canal really close to them. This project will be great as it will get young people involved in their local community while getting them active both physically, by getting into a canoe and onto the water exercising, but also learning new skills like design, planning, management and promotion of the trail. I'm really excited about it and can't wait to get going!”
Tony Hales, chairman of the Canal & River Trust adds: “We want communities to use canals to enrich their lives as part of a healthy and fun lifestyle. Canoeing is a great sport, growing in popularity, for the young and the older. We want to make it accessible and enjoyed by many more families and individuals, whatever their physical ability."
Richard Desmond, who founded The Desmond Foundation, said: “I'm delighted to be able to fund such a remarkable and unique project which will clearly change the lives of thousands of young people for years to come.”