This is a long read. Take a few minutes to read the inspirational story of Bill the celebrant, who finds canals offer their own form of counselling.
My story probably starts back in 2009. I'd had my 52nd Birthday and enjoyed a good life with a brilliant and loving family, three children and my wife who I met in 1982 at Butlins in Skegness. I decided to give something back. So I volunteered to work with people who were at their 'end of life' and had no close or immediate families.
It was during this time I started to work with a chap who was 97 years of age. Normally I would be with someone for about five days, but we spent twelve weeks together talking and laughing, he was simply brilliant and very interesting. When he sadly passed, he had left a letter with his solicitor asking if I would take his funeral service. I decided to honour his request and thus my work started as a celebrant.
By then it was 2014ish, and I was now working directly with people suffering loss. It may be a baby, child, teenager, or my eldest service was a couple of 105 who'd been together 76 years, both passing within hours of each other.
I realised that by continuing to talk and work with many families after the service it helped. I would invite them on walks to the canal and could see that it gave them a purpose, so I introduced my walks to many families. It has been a blessing. So many people now walk the canals with friends or family and have said the alternative would be sitting in the house and getting anxious, stressed or sad. It also has given some people a new lease of life, feeling better in their body and mind.
My own personal relationship with canals began after I'd injured my knee climbing one of the passages to Snowdon and couldn't climb anymore. After a short time recovering I decided to start walking, but the roads were always full of cars and fumes. I needed somewhere fresh and that's when I stumbled on the canal.
"I walked for 14 miles. I immediately fell in love"Bill
It was a crisp autumn morning and that day I walked for 14 miles. I immediately fell in love. After two years of walking I realised how good it was for my wellbeing and mindfulness. I felt good.
Now, through my work as a celebrant officiating funerals and giving bereavement help, the canals have become my second home. I help others by taking them on walks along the canals and just talking about life, getting them out of the house and feeling better especially after losing a loved one.
Because there's so much to see and do on the canal, for the last 12 months I've also introduced 'canalasizewithbill' which is all about simply walking and exercising along the canal at our own leisure. Weight loss is really good and the environment is super good for your mental health and wellbeing.
Stress and anxiety is caused in many ways and the common denominator in my work relating to people with stress and anxiety is becoming lethargic and letting the body become unfit and weak. By walking the canals and exercising on them, at no cost, and no loud and noisy gyms, your body, soul, and mind get regenerated without too much effort. It’s also fun.
The stress just falls away. You meet other people, you get out in the fresh air, you realise life can be better, and when you’re making your body stronger, it makes your mind stronger so that you're able to cope with stress better.
Stress and anxiety are normal parts of everyday life, they are chemicals the brain makes and as we are mostly in control of our body and mind I would say to anyone, “We can cope and control stress and anxiety with the right help - are you ready?”
My work is very demanding. I meet every day people who have lost a loved one and by the end of the week of officiating all the services, I need an escape myself. The canals have become my escape, my counselling.
“The canals have given me the best and cheapest therapy. I feel so much better after a canal walk, and very hungry."Bill
I can walk for miles and go over things that went on through the week with each family and then determine if I need to help further. The canals have given me the best and cheapest therapy. I feel so much better after a canal walk, and very hungry.
In my work to help people there have been many highlights. To see someone who hasn't been out of the house for many months, years in some cases, now go for a walk and feel good about themselves. To see a person lost and lonely at the end of their willingness to live become an energetic and happy person. Also reconnecting with family has been brilliant, when you see a family member get back in touch, it’s amazing. No money can buy that.
My life of walking has changed so much. The canals have become part of my every day. They’ve helped me through injury and whenever I'm anxious or stressed I head for the canals, not just because the seasons bring so much colour, but also the people you can meet along the way. My wellness and mindfulness of life around us has been exposed by my canal walks. I have found so many new friends and so many interesting and historic places of interest. The industry along the canals was, and still is, amazing.
My advice to anyone who can get to a canal, is, “Take a friend and just enjoy the walk and talk.”