hands deckon


Offering a lifeline of hope to people who are overcoming difficulties in life, The Ethel Trust and their community barge bring calmness in what can be a chaotic world with maritime voyages up and down the River Don.

For 30 years, the crew onboard at the Ethel

Trust have been building confidence and giving independence to young people through a unique waterborne experience like no other. The trust’s purpose built eponymous boat,

the Ethel, provides free day trips and overnight residential outings for children and young people with autism, educational needs or physical disabilities. Through their flagship project, Unlocking

Confidence, the Ethel Trust put on 70 day trips and ten two-day residential stays during 2017 – all free of charge for those aged four to 24. Thanks to support from donors and

fundraisers, this meant the trust was able to continue to offer educational and recreational excursions to local SEN schools and community groups. During the summer months, Ethel takes a

rural trip up the Doncaster part of the Don from Thorne to Sprotbrough; while in winter, day trips start at Victoria Quays in Sheffield and pass some of South Yorkshire’s industrial highlights until reaching Tinsley Marina. Along with improving confidence, the naval

adventure gives visitors the chance to build skills and knowledge to use in the future.

For some, just setting foot on the boat can

be a challenge, having rarely been out in the community. For others, the residential stays could be their first night spent away from home or the first time eating away from their dining room table. Many have no speech or communicate through Makaton, getting frustrated and angry when misunderstood. But for all, a trip on the Ethel provides a

completely sensory experience with lots of different new sounds, smells and sights that can

‘‘Run by a team of 35 volunteers – from retired firemen to dentists - who all dedicate their spare time to fulfil the lives of others, the Ethel is fully equipped with a galley kitchen and cabins and is licensed for up to 12 people plus staff ’’

be particularly therapeutic for those navigating the choppy waters of life. From teamwork and health and safety around

water to hygiene and preparing meals, the experience also allows the children and young people to get hands on with steering the boat or opening the locks. The sensory experience also helps improve

cognitive growth and motor skills while developing memory and improving social interaction. There’s more to this old girl than meets the eye. While local folklore suggests the name Ethel

was taken from a lady who donated money towards the barge, this female vessel is actually the fourth Ethel of its kind. The first two were working boats, perhaps

Ethel at Tinsley Marina 4

named Ethel after the owner’s wife. A third was acquired by the probation service and converted

to passenger use to offer day trips for children with special educational needs and disabilities. However, the probation service ran out of

money to fund it and so the boat was moored up and left to decay on the water for some while. Around the same time in 1988, a trust was formed to take over the service but Ethel was in dire disrepair and so headed downstream to the scrapheap. Following extensive fundraising and hard

work by the trust, they managed to raise £100,000 to build a new 57ft broad beam canal barge in 1993. To make it fully accessible for all service users, the newest Ethel is fitted with hydraulic lifts, disabled toilets and showers plus handrails throughout. Run by a team of 35 volunteers – from retired

firemen to dentists - who all dedicate their spare time to fulfil the lives of others, the Ethel is fully equipped with a galley kitchen and cabins and is licensed for up to 12 people plus staff. As it docked in Tinsley Marina one lunchtime,

we clambered onboard to find out more about the dedicated team behind the scenes. Here we met skipper, Peter, who trains all the

crew. He was joined by Rodger and Roger plus the only woman on the team, Mandy. Both Rodger and Roger had previous

experience of the service which encouraged them to volunteer. Rodger Baxby’s wife taught Independent

Living Skills at Hillsborough College and used Ethel as part of the course’s practical modules. When she knew the trust was looking for more volunteers, Rodger’s wife suggested he would be great for the role and he has since been involved for four years. As a new volunteer, Roger Simmons was

the ideal choice for safeguarding officer having had years of experience working with disabled children. Following a career in engineering, Roger retrained as a youth worker after volunteering at Sheffield Mencap. Roger worked as a youth development officer for Sheffield Council before moving to Bents Green Specialist Secondary School in Fulwood who also used the service.

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