TWO churchpeople who live on a narrowboat are travelling the Kennet and Avon canal using their craft as a walk-in Covid-19 vaccination clinic for boaters.
Rob Munday and his wife, Trish, who worship at St Michael’s Without, in Bath, are part of the Canal Boat Ministries group, which offers support to the population of the waterways of Britain. Their home is the boat Ocho, and they use a second craft, the 38-foot Litania, as a floating classroom taking vulnerable people for day trips. During lockdown, it was employed as a foodbank, and, last winter, public-health officials used it for flu vaccinations.
“Then they had the idea to use the boat to travel up from Bath into Wiltshire to do Covid-19 jabs,” Mr Munday said. “They provide the vaccine, and we were the crew.” For two weeks, they steered their two craft 40 miles up the canal into the Vale of Pewsey, near Marlborough.
“I would go on ahead, giving out flyers to boats along the way, and details were put on social media,” Mr Munday said. “We went to 11 different locations where clinic staff came to the boat; people could just tip up and get vaccinated.” Along the way, they had to navigate 39 locks, but were able to help inoculate more than 300 boat people. They plan to start the return leg in a month’s time, allowing people to receive their second vaccine dose.
“Boaters are a disparate group,” Mr Munday said. “Some are not registered with a doctor; some have moved off the streets; a number live on boats for socio-economic reasons; and there is a proportion who are vulnerable. They are people who have moved out of society.
“We did wonder whether we might get a bit of a cool reception, given the bohemian lifestyle on the waterways. There are quite a number of conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers around; but, actually, the response was wonderful. People were really positive, and we were so well received.
“Everybody has been delighted about the clinic and grateful. I had just one angry response from a boater when I was giving out flyers. Afterwards, a neighbouring boater apologised and said the man was known locally as “Eff-off Phil’.”
The Rector of St Michael’s Without, the Revd Roger Driver, said: “The number of people living on the canals is understood to be over 15,000 — the precise number is not known.
“Rob and Trish have opened my eyes to the many that choose to live there permanently. They are a lovely couple who are totally committed to what they do. They have earned a trusted reputation among the canal community and the public health groups have recognised that.”