Many of our volunteers have a connection one way or another with the local canals and waterways. Indeed, co-founder Nigel Anderson recalls a story from his father, who like many young boys from Ancoats, Manchester, enjoyed a cool dip in the Ashton canal during those pre-war summer months. That was until he was arrested by Mill Street police.


Nigel enrolled in Manchester & Salford Police in 1970 and some 20 odd years later, as a Chief Inspector in 1993, he was appointed head of Greater Manchester Police Olympic Project Team supporting Manchester Council’s bid to host the 2000 Olympic Games. It was during this time that Nigel became more closely connected with the Ashton canal in East Manchester as the Olympic stadium was to be built next to the canal, where The City of Manchester (Etihad) Stadium is now based.


Having carried out a scoping exercise across all intended Olympic sites, in addition to several other serious concerns, he became alarmed at the amount of crime being committed on and around the Ashton Canal. Several policing initiatives were devised to tackle this. However, he considered engaging the local community to help build their own community narrow boat. After all, this is where his father lived as a child, and he felt connected to the area. His aspiration was to run it free of charge due to the location being one of the most deprived in the UK.


At the same time and unbeknown to Nigel, co-founder Sue Steventon was already actively engaging the local community through her role as Communications Coordinator with Ciba Specialty Chemicals based alongside the Ashton Canal in East Manchester.


Unfortunately, Manchester lost the bid to Sydney and the project team was disbanded, together with any hope of the likelihood of building a community boat. However, Nigel personally retained the dream to build a narrowboat providing free trips for children and adults with disabilities in East Manchester. Nigel’s brother, Michael, had hearing and mobility limitations since birth and his plight was a key part of the decision-making process. The initiative was not supported by the police, so Nigel pursued this endeavour in his own time.


Just a few months after the Sydney decision Nigel, through his role as a police officer, had cause to visit Ciba Specialty Chemicals and met Sue Steventon for the first time in the spring of 1994. Nigel shared his community boat ambition with Sue who recognised its merit and was keen to support the initiative. During a tour of Ciba’s site, the potential became a reality. Nigel, for the first time, saw the Ashton Canal spur where a community boat could be moored in a secure environment...

and this is the moment that started an unstoppable endeavour that would see a dream become a reality.


Once the idea to build a narrow boat was agreed by the two co-founders, the logistics of contacting over 8000 people in East Manchester had to be addressed.    This was resolved via Ciba who offered their newsletter “Community Matters” (circulated to ca 7000 local households) and from articles in the July 1994 edition a handful of inquisitive and positive community groups and residents came forward. In November that year the committee was established with Nigel and Sue playing crucial roles within it.

The committee (forerunner of today’s trustees) met with other community boat organisations and boat builders and it quickly became apparent that the facilities and skills necessary to build a boat locally were not available.    Visits to boat yards and contact with community boat groups proved invaluable and once the committee knew how they wanted the boat to look they obtained quotes from three boat builders.   David Massey from Wincham Wharf, Northwich, was awarded the contract to build the 12 seater day-boat.   In September 1995 the formal order was placed along with an initial payment of £500.

David had agreed to accept stage payments and this turned out to be an excellent arrangement for two reasons.   Firstly, the committee knew that raising the £37,500 necessary to pay for the boat would take them many months, if not years, and secondly, by starting the building work, David gave the committee a clear goal and seeing the boat develop gave them great boosts of energy and motivated their fund raising efforts.

East Manchester Community Boat Project, a registered Charitable Incorporated Organisation, is maintained by grants and donations and is run by enthusiastic and dedicated volunteers.   The aims of the project have remained unchanged since its inception: to provide, completely free of charge, an educational, recreational, historical and environmental facility for children and adults who are disabled or disadvantaged.   This aim can only be met by the hard work of volunteers and relentless fund raising efforts.