London boaters to ‘reclaim the towpath’ amidst fears for safety

London boaters are set to ‘reclaim the towpath’ on the east London rivers and canals to promote safety and solidarity, as a survey of London towpath users reveals that just over half have often, or sometimes, avoided the towpath because of fear of crime.

Reclaim the Towpath – Towpathers Unite!’ will be held on Sunday, October 1st at 2pm, and all towpath users are encouraged to come along and help form a human chain - including boaters, rowers, dog-walkers, cyclists, canoeists and other London canal and river towpath users.

The meeting point will be on the Lee Navigation towpath by the Riverside Café, Springfield Park (E5 9BL) at 1.30pm, and the event will take about two hours. People intending to come along are encouraged to bring whistles, drums and other noise-making equipment.

Helen Brice, Reclaim the Towpath event organiser and London boatwoman said: “We know that there is a lot of strength and support in the boating and towpath using communities, but safety is an issue for us all, and we hope that the Reclaim the Towpath event will bring people together in a positive way.”

“Please come along to show your support, meet other London towpath users and help form a human chain on the towpath from Springfield Park to Markfield Park and beyond. This is a community and social event, we will be having fun, and all are welcome. Be sure to bring a brolly and a flask of something hot if it rains!” she added.

After the human chain event has finished, there will be a safety workshop held on The Village Butty – the floating London boating community ‘village hall’ – which will be moored nearby.

The event organisers – all London boaters – came together to organise the event after a spate of violent muggings over the summer, along the towpath of the River Lea near Springfield Park in Hackney, and the Hertford Union and Regents canal in Tower Hamlets. The survey was launched on social media forums soon after, to gauge the real and perceived threat of crime, and was responded to by over 500 boaters and other towpath users.

Other survey results show that one in ten of the 400 boaters that responded have been robbed or felt that they were in danger from robbery, and over half of have had something stolen from outside of their boat with one in four having had an attempted or actual break in and burglary.

The survey also reveals that there are concerns for personal safety amongst a majority of towpath users with just under two thirds taking precautions to stay safe, such as carrying a personal alarm, or avoiding walking alone – particularly since the summer crime wave.

However, a vast majority of the respondents – just over nine out of ten - said that boats on the towpath make them feel safer and almost all boater respondents said they had helped out other towpath users by lending out puncture repair kits, giving directions, lending a mobile phone or charger and giving first aid and assistance.

Herschel Gluck OBE, President of Shomrim North and East London, a Jewish run community safety patrol and charity that has assisted towpath users who have been a victim of crime, said: "At the Jewish New Year which we are commemorating this week, we view the canal and River Lea as a place that symbolizes continuity and security. We need to ensure that this is upheld at all times, for all those that use the London waterways and its surroundings.”

Boaters have already taken steps to improve community safety with 30 – mainly women – attending a free self-defence class advertised on the London Boaters community Facebook page and run by James Garvey from the University College London Jiu Jitsu Club.

Many other London community groups, organisations and businesses have become involved as the planning for the event gathers pace. The organisers expect more to join as the event draws nearer.

These include: The Canal and River Trust, The Lea Rowing Club, Moo Canoes, Shomrim North and East London, the Village Butty, what3words, Acme Whistles, Stimmung Therapy and the National Bargee Traveller Association – London Branch.

Sorwar Ahmed, London Waterway Boating Manager for the Canal and River Trust, said: “One of the best things about the waterways is the sense of community between those who live, work and play on and alongside the waterways. The towpaths are there for everyone to use and enjoy and it’s shocking when criminals use them as a base to prey on others.

Reclaim the Towpath is a wonderful show of solidarity and we hope it sees a high turnout. We’ll be coming along to show our support. Boaters in London have come up with some fantastic initiatives and it’s great to see the power of the community in action."

David Carruthers, President of Lea Rowing Club, said: “The River Lea is one of the hidden gems of east London and a fantastic resource for the local community. Ensuring safety for everyone who uses the river, both on the water and on the towpath, is crucially important to us all, so it’s great to see people coming together, looking out for each other and showing solidarity. We’re very happy to support this event.”

After Reclaim the Towpath has finished, why not chill out in the many cafes and bars in the area, or take part in a forage walk with Melissa Ronaldson from Stormvogel, the Herb Barge, and then hang around for ‘Bargarella’, a cabaret performance by London boatwomen at the Village Butty, starts 6.00pm, (tickets here) – with a licenced bar!

(Picture L-R: ‘Reclaim the Towpath’ organisers Kate Saffin, Helen Brice and Tank, with one of the ten banners that have been put up around the London Towpath © Mike Doherty.)

By LB News

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