Co-operating on the waterways

Co-operating on the waterways

Alongside my responsibilities as a Director of Central England Co-operative and my work with various other co-operatives, when I have some free time I like to get out and about around the canal network, see some wildlife and experience a different pace of life.  Being a member of the Jemima D ('D' for duck!) Narrowboat Co-operative allows me to do just that, and makes boating a more friendly and affordable hobby.

The Jemima story starts in the late 1970s when someone who worked at Suma Wholefoods, a worker Co-op wholefood wholesaler in West Yorkshire, bought a former hire boat for holidays.  After a few years he found that owning a boat was expensive and leaving her moored up beside the canal for 48 weeks a year was not good for the engine or internal fittings so he decided to share her with his friends. In 1983 this arrangement was formalised into a co-operative with 12 members each owning an equal share.

Today our members are mainly located in the West Midlands and the North West and in the winter we have a pretty rural mooring on the Caldon Canal, a few miles out of Stoke on Trent.  Each year the members meet at the beginning and end of the summer touring season and we share out the various tasks that need to be done - Treasurer, Maintenance Co-ordinator, Bookings Person, Minute-taker and so on.  I'm currently the Maintenance Co-ordinator.

Last week, myself and some other Jemima members took a few days off and booked out the wet dock at Stafford Boat Club to do some painting and repairs.  Anyone in the Stafford area looking for a venue for an event or meeting should consider the boat club - they're a friendly group of people and they have a bar and function room available to let.

The boat club is an entirely member-run facility which includes moorings and a whole range of facilities for its members.  When they don't need to use things like the wet dock or the slipway themselves, they rent them out to people who want to have some space to work on their own boats which suits us pretty well.  It's also five minutes walk from our Wildwood Co-op store which is a great place to stock up on food and snacks!

We started the week with our Spring members' meeting aboard and after we'd done the formal business set about cleaning and preparing Jemima's paintwork.  Later in the week myself and another member spent a day carefully rubbing down and priming the roof - especially in the gutters where water tends to sit, and on Thursday and Friday we got the paint on, repaired the deck rail, removed and re-seated one of the cabin windows and did some internal decorations.

We currently have some membership shares for sale, so we are hoping that our efforts will make the boat look a bit more attractive to prospective members and also make for a nicer experience for our summer cruising.

By the weekend I was pretty tired - but spending a week on practical tasks made a welcome change from the combination of desk work and meetings that seems to take up a lot of my work life!

If anyone is interested in finding out more about us and what we do, or in joining us, have a look at our website: or find us on facebook:

Richard Bickle is an elected Director of Central England Co-operative