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Care on the waterways

02 August 2013

IT WAS too hot for a clerical collar, the senior waterways chaplain, the Revd Mike Shaw, says, when he and the Revd John Scott commissioned Barbara Davis as a new lay chaplain. She will join the other chaplains working among the boating community who use the 25-mile stretch of the River Stort, a tributary of the River Lea, in St Albans diocese.

The ceremony took place on the last day of the three-day Ware Boat Festival, which dates back to Henry III, and now has a wide range of events around the River Lea, funded by the Ware Town Council.

Dr Scott is chief executive of Workplace Matters, a Christian charity that supplies workplace chaplains, including a growing number to boat people on rivers in England. They provide pastoral and spiritual care regardless of faith or creed, but, above all, supply a "listening ear", Mr Shaw, who is a former diocesan youth officer in St Albans, says.

There are many people living in boats on the river - some because they have chosen it as a lifestyle, others because a boat has been the only dwelling they can afford. "During the summer, it can seem idyllic; but, in the depths of winter, life can be very isolated and lonely."

Those who have a permanent mooring pay substantial rent and council tax, and can draw on local services, but most people on the waterways have a cheaper continuous cruising licence, which means that they must keep on the move, have no post code, and cannot register with a GP. If they have children, schools are a problem. They often have needs that the chaplains can help with.

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