BACK in the 1930s, there was an early attempt to make use of a floating classroom on the Grand Union around Yiewsley. The boat was called Elsdale and it was used for general education purposes.
Back then, it was pulled along the towpath by a horse and the facilities aboard were, to say the least, somewhat primitive.
But the principle of teaching children about the canal from the water proved attractive and at the turn of the millennium, the environmental charity Groundwork Thames Valley put in place plans to build a new floating classroom – appropriately called Elsdale 2.
Mike Moritz is Groundwork’s education manager who looks after Elsdale 2 and he is enthusiastic about the boat’s impact.
He said: “Our main focus is on primary school aged children – they probably account for 95 per cent of our educational users – and we offer a series of learning modules including ‘the Victorians and local history,’ ‘ecology and habitats’ and ‘art and design’.
“The children just love it and seem to get something extra out of learning aboard the boat.
“Every year, for the six years we’ve been operating, we’ve taken more than 6,000 school students and 4,000 from other groups on the canal. That’s more than 50,000 people in total. We usually aim to do around 200 trips a year, each with 30 school children aboard.”
Elsdale 2 is certainly state of the art. The 72ft long boat, which cost about £250,000, is the largest electric canal boat operating in the UK. She offers wheelchair access and has high tech display screens that can be used as teaching aids.
Built mainly in Poland, she was funded by a combination of grants from the Hillingdon Community Trust, the National Lottery, Biffa, the City Bridge Trust, the Hanson Environment Fund and A Rocha UK among others.
Her electric motors, which can be charged overnight, mean the craft is virtually silent and ecologically friendly – there is no diesel fuel to spill into the canal.
Aside from schools, Elsdale is also used by other community groups.
Mr Moritz said: “We’ve taken out parties from DASH (the Disablement Association of Hillingdon), Community Cancer Care, the Indian Association of Harrow – organisations who are keen to learn about the canal’s history and environment. We do make a charge for those kind of trips because it helps to pay for the boat’s overall operation.”
Elsdale 2 is becoming ever more popular with Hillingdon schools, but the Groundwork team now face a new challenge brought about by plans to build the Crossrail link across London.
Mr Moritz said: “Since 2008, we’ve been mooring the boat outside the John Guest plant in Yiewsley but we’ve now been told that we’ll have to move because that piece of land will be needed during the construction of Crossrail.
“It’s a great shame because Guest has been fantastic, allowing us to stay there and even providing a free electric charging point for us to use – now we’ve got to find somewhere else to keep Elsdale 2 by November 30.
“We want to stay in Hillingdon but if we can’t find anywhere on this stretch of the canal then we’ll have to consider moving her to Ealing or Hounslow, which will make it much more difficult to take Hillingdon children on day trips – we’ll spend half a day getting to and from the borough and there could be a problem with the range of the batteries. And of course, the more we have to spend on mooring charges, the less we’ll be able to put into developing new courses for the youngsters.”
Apart from a mooring for Elsdale 2, Groundwork will also need access to a suitable charging point to keep the boat’s sizeable batteries topped up.
Mr Moritz said: “We need a three-phase 60 amp source of power, the kind of thing that a marina or industrial unit can offer, but relatively few other places.”
The search for a new mooring spot is now well under way and Mr Moritz is quick to point out that it will not affect their ability to continue to offer school and other trips.
■ Can you, or your company, help by providing a secure mooring and charging facilities for the Elsdale 2? If so, contact the Gazette and we’ll gladly pass on your details to Groundwork Thames Valley. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more details about booking Elsdale 2 for a trip, contact Mike Moritz by email at email@example.com.
LAST CHUG FOR A POPULAR NARROWBOAT – PAGE 19