Posted 30th Oct 2017
"I've put my heart and soul into this boat. I'm from North Tyneside, a shipbuilding town where there's no shipbuilding any more. There's no work in this area and the whole community is suffering from the decline in the industry. I was laid off work last October. I could just sit on the dole but I've got a mission in life and I want to leave a legacy. At the end of my life I want to feel I’ve at least contributed something to somebody. So I started building a canal boat. Together with some highly skilled friends who’ve also been laid off, I want to try and bring boat building back to Newcastle and that's why I decided to found North East Narrowboats. We're not just looking for investment in the business, but also in the community of the north east.
Nobody round here has got any money, so this first boat was built by the community, built by friends, built for free. A bunch of lads with all their years of shipbuilding experience gave their time without asking for a penny. The whole community came together, offering whatever they had, all for free – from welders to cake makers. That's special, and it's very emotional to bring shipbuilding back to Tyneside.
All I have learned throughout my life came together and she is a beautiful boat, exactly what I think a boat should look like. I can build boats in my sleep, but through this build there were still things to learn. "Every day is a school day" I was told when I went into the shipyard as a lad straight from school. I remember my first day and how I rushed from task to task trying my hardest. At the end of that first day, my journeyman said to me, "Son, the graveyard's full of them." I asked him what. "Hard workers." he replied.
I'm proud of the effort everybody put into this canal boat. We didn't have any machinery, so everything is hand crafted. I think that adds a provenance to the finished boat. Even lifting the steel from the pallets was done by hand without a crane. We ripped the mickey out of each other as great big 6-foot men had steel tucked under their chins trying to lift the steel from the pallets!
It's been an absolute joy building this boat. If I can get this dream going, and get proper investment for my business, I can then employ the lads who gave their skills for free this time and build a fleet of boats. But it's not all about money, my long-term goal is to be able to build boats for charity so that terminally ill children can go on holidays with their mums and dads just chugging along on the water– that would be a thrill for me. In our family we've lost a lot of people to cancer and we see the pain and suffering it brings to families.
We haven't found a buyer for this first boat yet. Sometimes I've got emotional and despondent when nothing seems to be happening. I'll be thrilled when it sells! I really will be thrilled for everybody who put effort into this boat and to see it selling will be a massive lift in the area. I suppose our story is probably a bit like the real-life version of the film The Full Monty!"
Image and text courtesy of the Canal & River Trust