“We wanted to do something special,” explains Phil Bassett, a volunteer with the Rickmansworth Waterways Trust. He’s discussing the thinking behind ‘25 Years Young’, the theme of the 25th Rickmansworth Festival, which takes place in May on the Grand Union Canal. “Many of the organisations that come to the festival are interested in attracting young people so we thought that was a good place to focus our initiative. We want to create a trail for young people around the festival so they can see various groups and get some hands on experience, whether it’s angling, taking a boat trip or trying traditional crafts like knot-tying.”
The festival was started in 1993 and originally featured around 15-20 boats and drew a few hundred visitors. Now around 120 boats attend – there’s no room for any more – and up to 30,000 visitors will come to the site over the course of the weekend. Proceeds from the festival are used to fund the Rickmansworth Waterways Trust educational activities, such as the working boat Roger, a new canalside education centre and the ongoing Learning At The Lock course that the Rickmansworth Waterways Trust runs for local primary schools in KS1 and KS2, which introduces children to the history, craft, engineering and architecture of the canal.
The work done by the Rickmansworth Waterways Trust ties in with priorities of Canal & River Trust, which has recently launched its first youth engagement framework. Ani Sutton is overseeing the youth engagement team for Canal & River Trust and says the Trust will be getting involved in the festival, using its contacts to encourage youth groups in the area to get involved.
“We want to get more young people involved in the canals and this is our first youth engagement framework,” says Ani. “Everybody is supporting it and young people have been involved in developing it. Canal & River Trust recognises that young people are imperative to the future of the canals’ future and there are three aspects we are developing – volunteering and campaigning; active participation in arts, sports and wellbeing projects; and employability and skills development.”
Ani explains how important it is to get young people involved in our waterways, who will hopefully bring different values, fresh ideas and renewed energy and enthusiasm to the canal. “Young people see things from a different perspective, and they are also part of the community but have previously been ignored,” she says. “We want them to see canals as part of their life. It’s not just a bit of water, there are so many opportunities and that’s where kids can help us because they are very creative.”
That’s what the team at the Rickmansworth Waterways Trust also believe. The festival has grown steadily over the past 25 years, and now takes up a considerable amount of space between Batchworth and Stockers Locks. As well as historic boats, there will be craft stalls, music stages, boat trips, a fun fair, petting zoo, catering and a real ale tent.
David Montague, the chair of the Rickmansworth Waterways Trust, says, “We’re inviting all the local water-based charities, the sea cadets, young mariners and other organisations to get involved. We want to get more young people involved in the waterway. That will create a new generation of volunteers and also bring new ideas into the system. A lot of people use the canals for exercise, they go canoeing, they cycle, walk and run, but we need more active engagement and volunteering.”
For Phil Bassett, the important thing is to show that the canal has so much to offer for children, especially those looking to spend more time outdoors. “Young people can really add something,” he says. “We believe we have something good here that we enjoy and we want other people to enjoy it too.”
The Rickmansworth Festival takes place on 19th and 20th May between Batchworth and Stockers Locks on the Grand Union Canal.