One boat - two businesses

January 2017 - By Peter Underwood

The Floater takes a look at canal traders – people creating businesses on our canals and rivers. Their numbers are increasing almost daily and the chances are you will see a floating market or a sole trader on the canal at most times of the year.

As Peter Underwood reports, our latest trader operates not one but two businesses from her beautifully restored narrowboat – although only one of them is aimed at the towpath buyer.

Illia Price, 56, says she is not only happily single but comfortable with her own company – apart that is from her First Mate, Morgan the dog, a Border/Patterdale terrier cross. She is certainly a lady for plunging in at the deep end, starting her boating career with a 130 miles, 130 lock single-handed trip from Reading to Alvechurch.

She told The Floater: “My boat is called Caledonia, a 48' Harborough Marine, built in 1973. I bought her in August 2014. Sound but in need of a lot of TLC.

“I'd been renovating houses for years and wanted a boat that needed gutting out so I could do it to my taste without ripping out somebody else's good work.

“The boat was the first I looked at in the flesh having surfed the web for weeks. She was a nice shape, the right length and basic layout, surveyed well and was within budget.

“I've always loved boats and moving around. I spent my childhood in Wales, four young adult years in Warwickshire and Essex, followed by almost 30 years in various parts of Scotland and 2 years in Cumbria before moving to the Midlands to be nearer my daughter and her young family,

“I'd bought a house to do up and sell on in West Heath, Birmingham. I was walking along the canal one day and saw a boat for sale. That led me to much research to see if I could live and work on a boat.

“When I found I could I started planning. I finished the house I was renovating and started my search for a boat. That all came together in August 2014. The house sold, I paid off the mortgage on my house in Cumbria and bought the boat.”

Illia has an industrial engraving business ( ) which she established 30 years ago and says it 'keeps me solvent for part time hours'. Unusually, she supplies engraved botanical labels to gardens, arboreta etc. throughout the UK and overseas - around 16 - 20,000 a year of them. She explained: “It's a postal/online business. I just need mobile wifi to receive enquiries and orders and a post office to send them off when completed.”

She recalls the days her floating business got under way. “My newly purchased boat was at Aldermaston Wharf, near Reading. My engraving machinery was in temporary storage at my daughter's house in Alvechurch.

“Label orders were piling up in the 10 days or so it had taken to clear the house, hand it over and complete the payment and paperwork on the boat. I needed to get her up to Alvechurch a.s.a.p. and get the business running again.

“As I'd only steered a narrowboat for about an hour on holiday with friends the previous year I booked a Helmsman's course on the first day of my voyage.
“That was great and gave me the basics I needed to complete my 130 mile and 130 lock single handed maiden voyage.

“It took 12 days, 2 of those spent dealing with breakdowns. It was a life changing experience to say the least, but I loved it! I knew my boat inside out by the time I reached Alvechurch.

“I spent the next year stripping out the boat, insulating it properly and re-cladding and refitting, section by section as I was also living and working aboard, as well as continuously cruising. It's now light, bright and comfortable. Completely to my taste.”

Then the second business with more towpath appeal got started. Illia said: “I've always loved glassware and mirrors. I decided I'd have a go at leading and painting mirrors for 2015 Christmas gifts for family and friends.

“I quickly became hooked and the boat became full of decorated glass. I decided to apply for a trader's license to sell it and this was granted in August 2016.

“My first event was the Tipton festival in early September. I've been amazed at how many people have admired and purchased it. I now have free rein to make as much as I feel like!”

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