Upcyclers set sail into a trading future

April 2018 - Canals seem to attract artistic people with an interest in living in harmony with their environment and the urge to become as self sufficient as possible – and the upsurge in waterways traders is ample evidence of that. Charles Alberts reports on the latest recruit.

Most are 'crafty' in more ways than one and virtually every trader seems to combine the urge to see what's around the next bend with an understanding that boats enable a minimalist lifestyle, unavailable on land.

Two of the latest recruits to the travelling band of merchants is John Skett and his partner of 24 years, Kate King – both long-term liveaboard boaters in the Midlands but now hitting 60 and embarking on a trading adventure.

John explains: “We moved aboard the Four Seasons in October 2004 (to encourage our grown up children to become more independent – like that worked - and have lived aboard since then.

“At that time we were both worked for Birmingham City Council, me as a building inspector and Katie as an economic regeneration manager.

“Prior to owing our own narrowboat our first experience on the water was a sponsored cruise for St Basil's homeless charity on their boat, from Gas Street basin to Stratford upon Avon in 13 hours.

“We loved it so much that we just had to go for it.”

He says that whilst at work they were only able to cruise for three weeks at a time and return to home moorings at Ocker Hill.

“With both of us having both an artistic and musical background it was easy for us to see the beauty in creating things that we found either at the side of the canal or what we fished out of the water,” John explains.

“In 2011 Katie created "Wicked Wood" and we started making artisan walking sticks, lamp stands and small occasional tables etc. We were featured in the May 2012 Canals Rivers and Boats magazine when we traded for the first time at the Engine Arm alongside other traders.
“In the interim, we had gathered many small items of furniture which we were up-cycling and I was buying, reconditioning and selling guitars. We had a unit at The Emporium in Brierley Hill where we traded from.

“It was always our intention to continually cruise once retired we purchased the butty boat Fox in 2016 in order to plan our retirement as traders on the inland waterways.

“We had our first trading opportunity from the butty not long after we got it, being one of the lucky few to trade at the 100 year anniversary of Alvechurch Marina/boat yard and we were hooked.”

Katie retired in June 2016 and the couple continued to up-cycle almost anything they could get our hands on while John had to continue at Birmingham City Council until September last year.

He says: “After 12 years of cuts and stripping of resources and austerity in local government, eventually enough was enough.”
The past six months was spent upgrading the engine and aqua drive on trheir boat before they felt in a position to sever all ties to a residential mooring and sail into the sunset two weeks ago.

John said: “We are currently moored at Wheaton Aston, about to cruise from here to Coven and then onto Great Heywood in the coming weeks. We intend to stay close to the Midlands for the next 12 months or so before we maybe move further afield in the future.”

Photos: (1st) Upcyclers set sail into a trading future, (2nd) Walking stick anyone? (3rd) Katie amongst the stock, (4th) Trading at Alvecote, (5th) John and Katie Skett.

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