HANDS is one of our longest standing clients. We asked Maureen Payan, who started HANDS many years ago and led its services until recently, what the Boat Project has meant to them.
Thank you for suggesting that I write to tell you of the treasured connection HANDS has enjoyed with the Venturer for many years.
Christmas 1977 saw the birth of ‘HANDS’ (Help A Neighbour in Distress Scheme), formed in response to an increasing need for practical help and support beyond what is available from statutory sources. Our aim was, and remains, to improve the quality of life for mainly elderly people trying to survive alone in their own dwellings.
We provide all kinds of practical help, but also encourage our clients to enjoy what the community has to offer in the way of outings and treats. Some never get out at all, but small groups regularly derive great pleasure from three annual river trips on the Venturer. These never fail to delight. Other such activities have included visits to the local theatre, parks, Kew Gardens and picnics.
We took our first nine clients and three volunteers out on the Venturer on one of its earliest voyages to Shepperton, not missing a year since. The appeal to housebound and isolated people comes from companionship in the fresh air, and a gentle cruising pace to gaze on river views, boats, trees, wildlife, and gardens. An adventure and a magical escape from four walls at home, in particular for those unable to walk unaided. We meet at Kingston Dock to be greeted by Skipper Peter and his trained volunteer crew who help us aboard. The day starts with coffee and biscuits in the saloon while Peter gives us a chat on the facilities available, on safety and on the trip itself. Then up on deck by lift to be made comfortable with cushions and blankets or sun cream and hats, but if the weather is inclement we can sit in the wheelhouse.
Our two cooks take to the galley, while Nualan does deck duty seeing to people’s needs and helping them to walk the “plank” (or deck) to prevent joint stiffness. We cruise down the river enjoying the sights and chatting. The journey is colourful and interesting. At lunchtime everyone, crew included, enjoy a hot lunch around a long table in the saloon laid with a white cloth for our traditional shepherd’s pie (note from Martha – Maureen’s shepherd’s pie is legendary among the crew!) followed by such as strawberries and trifle. There is the all-important pleasure of chatting at table. Back on deck we take tea and home baked cakes before arriving back at 5pm. Our group is tired but happy, full of gratitude for a very special day out and eager to come again. They have benefited from companionship and from being cared for all day.
The boat is very well designed and safe to accommodate wheelchairs and walking aids. We are glad of the new awning and cushions. The crew, led by Peter, is helpful and well organised and we feel safe. We also enjoy seeing them interacting with our clients who have little chance to meet people in the normal way. Coming from our savings we feel the cost is justified by the trips’ true value to our clients.