The YMCA Birkenhead and the Norfolk Wherry Albion

Nigel Hughes, the Ch Executive of the YMCA Birkenhead is a man on a mission.  His aim is to piece back together broken lives and in this he is remarkably successful.  What is especially unusual is the way that he has gone about it.  He has taken the homeless, together with recovering alcoholics and drug addicts – boating.

Nigel had spent his youthful summers working on and around boats on the Broads and when he took on his job with the YMCA he thought that the experience of being on a boat, away from city distractions and malign influences for a period of time, might just might, enable his clients to find their true selves.  He started by hiring canal narrow boats, which drew the attention of the inland waterway authorities who were rather fearing the worst, but having spoken to Nigel quickly came on side. They made introductions, which led to funding, and the purchase of YMCA Birkenheads  very own narrow boat.  They named the boat, after a particularly helpful government official who saw the potential that the project might have, “Maff Potts Potential”.   Nigel and Mr Potts were proved right – the breaking of the ties to the land was successful   -  and so Nigel set about finding out whether it was possible for the YMCA to have their own cruiser on the Broads.

Through serendipity he actually ended up, with the help of her owner, obtaining a classic wooden boat, formerly a hire craft owned by Herbert Woods on which Nigel had undoubtedly worked in his youth.  Formerly named ‘Golden Light II’ and now named ‘Mona’s Queen’ the YMCA used some surplus funding from the ‘Potential’ project to restore the boat to her former glory.  The engine needed replacing, which nearly scuppered the project, but once more fate took a hand.  Jenny Wharton, when a young lady living in Lowestoft during the war had volunteered to work at the YMCA to ‘do her bit’, and whilst there had met and married a serviceman from Birkenhead, moving there after WWII.  Now deceased, her family were looking to fulfil her wish that a gift from her estate be left to the YMCA , of which she had fond memories. It turned out that she had travelled on her honeymoon aboard a steamer named ‘Mona’s Queen’ and so a delighted family were pleased to fund the cost of the replacement engine.

Since 2008 ‘Mona’s Queen’ has taken dozens of young men out on the magical waterways of the Broads.  A very high percentage have turned their lives around to an amazing degree. This year the YMCA extended their project to include chartering the wherry Albion.

Of the Albion experience, Nigel says: 
“There can be few experiences that better capture the magic of the Broads more than a day on Albion.  She is synonymous with the area and its rich heritage – a peerless icon of the finest values of the region. 

We have long respected the valuable work done by the Norfolk Wherry Trust in keeping Albion afloat but what we didn’t realise was the outstanding professionalism and skills of the teams who sail her. 

Throughout the last summer our groups have sailed on Albion and have gained a huge amount from the experience. Team building, raising self esteem and confidence, communications skills, leadership and above all else having a fantastic day, the memories of which will last forever.

The friendliness of the crew allied to their extensive knowledge of the area, its history and environmental issues make for a fascinating insight into the Broads.

This has got to be one of the best value days out in Britain!  We will be back next year and the years after.”

Henry Gowman of The Norfolk Wherry Trust who own and operate Albion said, “It has been a joy to be associated with such a great project.  After each trip our volunteer crews came back humbled but smiling and pleased to have played a small part in helping to stitch lives back together”.

Just as the YMCA Birkenhead came to the notice of the inland waterway authorities, so they have come to notice on the Broads.  On Saturday 13th November 2010, at their AGM, The Broads Society will present The Lady Mayhew Trophy to the YMCA in recognition of the success of the project.  Nigel Hughes, together with Susan Nicholas - the Chair of the Board of YMCA Trustees – will be present to accept it.

Henry Gowman   Trustee Norfolk Wherry Trust (Press Officer)
m:07906 701891  

Nigel Hughes   Chief Executive YMCA Birkenhead  tel:0151 650 1015

Broads Society

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