Hundreds of people turned out to attend the Boaters Spring Fayre on the Lee Navigation.
With the National Bargee Travellers Association (NBTA) stating it was a powerful show of support and solidarity against the Canal & River Trust’s (CRT) ongoing attacks on the itinerant boater community.
Trying to erase boaters
The event, organised by the the association and held in glorious sunshine from midday until 7pm telling it drew close to a thousand boaters, locals and allies of the itinerant boater community to the Lee towpath of North Millfields Recreation Ground (sometimes referred to as the Clapton ‘S-bend’), one of the many ‘Water Safety Zones’ from which the CRT is trying to erase boaters.
At one point, CRT called these areas ‘water sports zones’ before later renaming them ‘water safety zones’. These designated ‘zones’ are a part of CRT’s London Mooring Strategy—an ongoing plan to remove the number of places where boaters can moor in the capital, and to force the itinerant boater community off the water. Their renaming is part of a PR exercise the restrictions they are attempting to enact inside the zones have nothing to do with safety.
Get rid of 550 moorings
Initially CRT had plans to get rid of 550 mooring spaces along the river where people can moor for up to 14 days at a time. Following the magnificent resolve and resistance of the boating community through a series of campaigns, events and challenges to the policy, CRT relented on the full threatened 550 mooring spaces, but continue to try and eliminate 295 mooring spaces, including the entirety of the Clapton ‘S-Bend’.
Yet despite the CRT’s efforts, including hundreds of thousands of pounds wasted on outsourced enforcement contracts to harass and intimidate boaters, Sunday saw the towpath lined with a brilliant array of boats, stalls and stages where the boater community celebrated their life on the water with music, food, speeches and information on the campaign provided by a whole team of NBTA activists.
The event, which was one of the largest ever organised by the NBTA, saw speeches from boater activists about the ongoing campaigns to defend the rights of itinerant boaters, alongside speeches in solidarity from Unite, Travellers Pride and Acorn, and a whole host of performances from both boater and land-based musicians. The NBTA raised both funds for and awareness of their campaigns with generous donations from the public, and a flood of sign-ups to NBTA communications.
"Never back down"
Marcus Trower, NBTA London branch secretary and one of the event’s organisers told:
“This event perfectly encapsulated why itinerant boaters will never back down in the face of CRT’s attempts to bully us off the waterways. Hundreds of people have come out together today because of the joy, community and life that boaters bring to the water.
"We’ve had huge numbers of locals expressing horror at the idea that the CRT wants to erase us from these areas, with many non-boaters signing up to get involved in ongoing campaigns. We’ve had boaters from all across the UK showing up to share memories and experiences of time spent on the Lee, building our community even further. We’ve had dedicated NBTA activists contributing their time, effort, skills and creativity to making the day a resounding success, and laying the groundwork for future events.
"All of this goes to show that the boater community and our allies will stay strong against the CRTs boat cul—not just for our own sakes, but for the sake of the local communities who stand in solidarity with us to celebrate and defend life on the water.”
The National Bargee Travellers Association is a volunteer organisation formed in 2009 that campaigns and provides advice for travelling boat dwellers on Britain’s inland and coastal waterways. This includes anyone whose home is a boat and who does not have a permanent mooring for their boat with planning permission for residential use.