We would like to introduce you to James who we have been supporting over the last year. He lost his job as a yoga instructor because of Covid, and then his boat sank last autumn when the Twerton sluice gate stuck open and the River Avon water level dropped nearly two metres in half an hour. He ended up in temporary accommodation and was homeless on occasion. He heard of Genesis Trust from a boat neighbour.

When we think of canal boats we may think of a holiday experience we have had or hope to have but for many of our clients a canal boat is their home. We are currently aware of eighteen people, both male and female, who are in disadvantaged situations and live on a boat.

It is becoming more popular with homeless people to get a boat as they can be bought cheaply and with grants. But even with a boat they are still considered homeless because they do not have a fixed address. And invariably the boat will need a lot of work to make it liveable.

Paul Solly, Manager of Life Projects, says, “Many people living on boats who we support choose that lifestyle. They want to be off-grid and under the radar. They value their independence and freedom outdoors. They enjoy the alternative community.”

And Genesis Trust wants to honour each of these clients as unique and valued, and to support them for their independent spirit and hard work to maintain their boats.

But it has been very difficult during lockdown. Many boaters have lost their jobs and have been struggling and so have come to Lifeline at the Gateway Centre more frequently over the last year for support like showers and food. Also, maintaining their boats is a constant task and can be expensive. One of the ways we support our clients is to help them access grants to do repairs and for items such as solar panels, insulation, stoves, ovens, windows, motors and fuel.

It may seem like such an insignificant issue but another way Genesis Trust supports these boaters is by allowing them to use the Gateway Centre as an address. We may take having a postal address for granted but it is difficult to receive post or apply for grants without one.

James was helped at Lifeline and his experience was very positive: “I was dealing with a lot of anxiety because of everything that had happened to me.  The staff at the Gateway Centre were very helpful, welcoming and non-judgmental. They were also very professional with their Covid policies as I have some ongoing medical conditions.”

We eventually supported James to start a new café based on his boat and helped him with a grant application to St John’s Foundation for solar panels. He also used the Gateway Centre as a postal address to receive the equipment he needed for his café, for which he received a grant from Future Bright, a B&NES initiative to improve people’s job prospects. They also helpfully allowed him to use their laminating and printer machines so that he could make all the necessary health and safety signs while access to the library was restricted because of COVID.

And this is what Genesis Trust is about. We want to provide compassionate support that meets people’s immediate needs and then journey with them as they overcome challenges as they move from crisis to independence.