The story so far

Lyneal Trust History – Lyneal Wharf lies on the Llangollen Canal which was part of an ambitious late 18th century plan to link the rivers Mersey and Severn, much of which was never built. The date of the wharf’s construction is not known, but we do know that this section of the canal was in use by 1806, and that the wharf was used as a depot for coal brought by canal for local distribution. The original cottage which forms the core of Wharf Cottage housed the wharf keeper and his family.

After WWII the wharf passed into private hands and for some 40 years became the weekend cottage and canal cruising base for John Heap and his family. He was a Macclesfield banker who was involved in the Heulwen Trust encouraged by the Prince of Wales, which on the Montgomery canal at Welshpool had launched one of the earliest boats designed for use by the disabled.

In the early 1980’s John Heap made the generous decision to offer Lyneal Wharf to any organisation that could encourage disabled people to use the canals, and that offer in due course arrived in Shirehall Shrewsbury. As Shropshire’s response to the Prince of Wales’ appeal to mark The Queen’s Silver Jubilee the Pines Trust had been formed to provide a holiday house and camping ground adapted for disabled people in a house of that name in Bishops Castle. That project was still in its infancy when John Heap’s offer arrived and so that had to wait its turn for attention.

But in 1985 after some initial exploration of the possibilities it was decided to establish a separate trust to promote use of the canals by the disabled, and the Lyneal Trust was born.

It comprised representatives of the disabled organisations and of organisations which it was hoped would be keen to provide practical and maybe financial support. Like the Pines Trust it was chaired by the Lord Lieutenant, and with the blessing of the County Council was staffed by the County Secretary and County Treasurer.

Lyneal Trust History

Our first priority was inevitably to raise enough money to buy or build a suitable boat and to adapt Wharf Cottage and add to the accommodation on shore by adding 3 chalets. Two chalets each had 2 bedrooms and a bathroom, the third was a games room.  It was rapidly realised that there was no boat to be bought “off the peg” that would be suitable for disabled use. The only other narrow boat in the field was at Welshpool and that was a day boat not a cruiser. The only cruisers were the broad beams of the Peter Le Marchant Trust in the wide locks and canals of the East Midlands. No-one was offering the kind of do-it-yourself canal cruising holiday that we had in mind, that would for example enable a family with a disabled member to have exactly the same holiday as any other, with the same interests, learning curves, problems, and excitements. We also wanted to enlarge the wharf’s capacity so that parties could have a shore base for a cruise or for day trips.

So with the help of experienced professional advice and the skills of the Stoke on Trent Boat Yard a ground breaking plan for a 70 foot  cruiser was devised with a raised stern deck and wheel and tiller steering so that wheelchair users could take the helm. It had an hydraulic lift between stern and main decks, a wheel chair accessible shower and loo, passageways just wide enough for wheel chairs, and bunks for 8 people as well as a fully equipped galley and saloon. All at a high and durable standard of finish, and all of which cost money.

At the same time the North Shropshire District Council lent us their architect so that plans for the enlargement of the cottage and the building of two chalet bungalows and a games/utility room could be prepared and approved. The Shropshire Horticultural Society offered to make the landscaping of the garden their centenary project, a great many begging letters were sent off, and the money came in.

So much so that the contract for the boat could be placed in 1986. She was named Shropshire Lass and had her maiden voyage back to Lyneal in May 1987. On a splendid day in July she was commissioned by HRH Princess Alexandra, and we were off!

All the relevant Shropshire organisations had been alerted to our arrival on the disabled scene and so had every Social Services authority in the UK; so we were not short of customers. Most importantly we had found a first class locally based engineer to service the boat and be readily available in case of problems. We had also recruited a team of volunteers to meet and greet and to skipper day trips if required. Families and groups of all ages with every kind of disability came from all over the UK and quite often from continental Europe as well.

After five years experience we decided that there was enough demand for a separate day boat, primarily for county based groups but which could also supplement the Shropshire Lad for large residential groups with a varied programme. So another round of design and fund raising lead in April 1993 to the launch by our principal benefactor of Shropshire Lad to the tunes of Rule Britannia and A Life on the Ocean Wave from the Lakeland School’s wind band.

Shropshire Lass I served us well but by the summer of 2007 she had done 20 years of hard labour and deserved a rest. So we planned a replacement to be built by the same yard on similar lines but with the benefit of our now considerable experience. The cost was met by a generous grant from a Shropshire trust and Shropshire Lass II was commissioned in July of that year and launched on 2008.

We then had another two more royal occasions. The first came in 2008 after 21 years operating during which we had catered for some 10,500 disabled people and their helpers. This was the Queens Award for Voluntary Service which we counted a considerable feather in our caps. The second was in June 2012 when the Trust had the great honour of having both our boats included in the Thames Pageant to mark The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.  You can read the Chair of the Trust, Chris Symes’ recollection of the day through this link.

Lyneal Trust History

 

During 2012 the Trustees agreed to conduct a complete review of its strategy, and the following few years sped by with changing Trustees and responsibilities,  introduction of a new web site and enhanced booking procedure including an on-line booking facility, customer feedback and analysis leading to new branding and marketing policies, ‘Bringing the Trust back to Lyneal’ with local volunteers and supporters, quality training of volunteers, refurbishment of the wharf cottage facilities and gardens, plus improvement in operational procedures to meet the Canal and River Trust’s standards for licencing boat yards and hiring boats. Possibly the biggest step was to widen the Trust’s purpose to “ Provide canal-based recreation for people with disabilities, vulnerabilities or long-term illness, and their families, carers and friends”.

All this took a lot of effort by some extraordinary people, as all the time customer numbers were increasing but, by 2016 we were happy that Lyneal Trust was in a good place to try and further satisfy the demands for its services.

By now, old faithful Shropshire Lad was showing its age and so the decision was made that a replacement day boat was the priority. A team of Trustees and volunteers undertook many, many hours of research, including much travel across the country to see how other “accessible” boat operators were doing things, particularly with regard to ramps, lifts, toilets and interior design. Occupational therapists advised on wall, floor and furniture materials and colours, and by September 2016 we were ready to return to Stoke Boats to commission a unique 60’ 12-passenger day boat with panoramic windows and skylights for maximum viewing pleasure, comfortable seats, and easy access. Meanwhile, approaches to the benefactors who previously had supported Lyneal Trust were most successful and the necessary funds became available.

So it was wonderful news when Princess Alexandra accepted the Trust’s invitation to return to Lyneal Wharf to name the new boat Shropshire Lady and the ceremony took place on 21st July 2017 (just over 20 years since HRH’s last visit) with much media attention including BBC TV. Once again, the weather did not play its part properly! Several articles appeared in canal and holiday magazines because the Lady was definitely “something different”, featuring the roof lights, hydraulic secondary steering with joystick control and CCTV to aid navigation to provide steering opportunities for wheelchair users, and an audio system for passenger information. Shropshire Lady then went straight into service with Shropshire Lad, the latter being sold at the end of the season to a charity based in the south of England.

We chose the Lady naming ceremony to also launch the new Trust branding and the LT logo and tag line ‘making holidays accessible’ were well received by visitors, volunteers and media. Shropshire Lady was of course, in the new livery.

As the demand for the holiday boat showed continued growth, and the funds were available, in July 2017 the trustees decided to commission a second one. Using the experience gathered with the design of Shropshire Lady, plans were drawn up for a 70’ 6-berth boat to be built at the same boatyard. Most of the design features which so benefitted Shropshire Lady were included, plus an exceptionally large bathroom for a canal boat. After an extended journey from Stoke to Lyneal, caused by a major breach on the Middlewich Canal, Shropshire Maid arrived to be named by the Lord Lieutenant and his wife, Sir Algernon and Lady Jane Heber-Percy, at a launch ceremony on 26th May 2018.

Late in 2017, after the new brand launch, the Shropshire Lady launch, and the commissioning of Shropshire Maid, an anonymous donation was made to the Trust, specifying that it was for the refurbish of Shropshire Lass in the new livery.

It was a proud moment indeed for all associated with Lyneal Trust when all three boats arrived in convoy at the wharf for the naming ceremony, a brief interlude before boats and the team went back to “work” to ensure that the c1500 people using our facilities in 2018 enjoyed their experience.

The wonderful summer helped ensure this, and then in December, after a successful trial in 2017, the Trust extended its Santa Cruises from two days to four. Guests have a 45 minute ride on Shropshire Lady which is all decked out with Christmas lights, trees and musical entertainment, with seasonal refreshments served by Santa’s elves, followed by a visit to Santa’s grotto in Wharf Cottage for story telling by the fireside and a present-giving visit by Santa. The guests, young and old, gain much enjoyment, as do the volunteers who are there to help Santa.

Lyneal Trust History - Christmas Event

With so much activity in the previous few years, 2019 was supposed to be a year of consolidation but it turned out to be far from it. The improvements at Lyneal Wharf continued with the conversion of the old games room into a meeting and rest room for volunteers and arriving guests, the installation of fuel and boat servicing facilities, laying of new paths to access the meeting room and all three boats when at the wharf, and continued with our dedicated team of gardeners turning the gardens into an admired delight. All this whilst a record number of guests enjoyed the Trust’s facilities.

Lyneal Trust History - Volunteers

We established even closer links with our partners, with Whitchurch Rotary breaking their own record for the number of guests given trips by the Club during the week they had Shropshire Lass and Shropshire Lady; Wem Rotary provided several days of trips on the Lady; Friends of Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Hospital provided many days out on Lady for patients in the Spinal Injuries Unit; and Spiral of Brighton hired all our facilities for three weeks for adults with physical and learning difficulties.

None of this would have been achievable without the Trust’s team of volunteers, and it is not surprising that it was necessary for more to ‘come on board’ during the year.

Another enjoyable series of Santa Cruises in the run-up to Christmas concluded the most successful year in Lyneal Trust’s history, with nearly 2000 people benefiting from its service.

As for 2020, the COVID-19 year?

The Trust’s holiday and day trip operations were already closed to guests at the start of the year following the Government’s announcement of lockdown in March 2020.  All guests who had booked holidays and day trips were contacted and offered full refunds or postponements.

As lockdown continued, officers and volunteers monitored Government announcements and sector specific bodies’ guidance.  Every operational and volunteering process and procedure was reviewed, covering risk assessments, cleaning schedules, social distancing management and guest and volunteer guidance.  It was a mammoth task, but everything was in place to commence operations on 17 July 2020.  To allow sufficient time for the enhanced cleaning regimes the holiday offer was adapted.  For the holiday boats, if consecutive weeks had been booked, holidays were shortened to 5 nights and handover times were staggered to reduce social contact.  Holidays at Wharf Cottage were flexible over length of stay providing there was 48 hours between bookings.

Full guidance was provided to guests, including the procedure to follow should any guest be suspected of having Covid-19. PPE and sanitiser were provided on the boats and at Wharf Cottage. PPE was a requirement in the cleaning and handover regimes.  The Trust was grateful to Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt for donating a significant number of items and Thomas Adams School Wem for donating full face visors made on their 3D printers.  NHS Test and Trace procedures were implemented with additional signage appearing around the Wharf site.

As the year continued and restrictions were lifted and then tightened, following Government guidance became more involved.  Being based close to the English and Welsh border, many boat holidays weave in and out of the two countries.  Following both Governments’ guidance and ensuring guests understood them became a challenge to overcome.

After all the challenges faced by the Trust and guests, some happy holidays were enjoyed:

A holiday boat guest comment: Kenton, who showed us around the boat, was an absolute gentleman.  Very knowledgeable, welcoming, and helpful. The boat was clean and tidy and Covid friendly.  The Trust has obviously worked very hard to meet the regulations, thank you.  The boat has a very practical layout which allowed my disabled daughter to access the full boat which was fabulous for us to be able to spend quality family time together.

A Wharf Cottage guest comment: As in previous years an excellent holiday was had by all.  With Covid-19 everything was done to the Government guidelines, and this gave us confidence and peace of mind.  On behalf of myself and my family we really appreciate everything the staff and volunteers do for this wonderful charity making holidays accessible for all. As this is our 3rd holiday we are looking forward to many more and hopefully next year we will be able to have a day trip.  We have been to a few ‘accessible’ holidays over the years, and this is the best so far.  We have given recommendations to our friends.

July 2021 finally saw all Covid restrictions lifted and during the remainder of the season there was a steady return to normal. During this period, we achieved our objective of becoming self-contained with regard to volunteer skippers’ training, which not only saves costs for the Trust but also has given us an extra income stream from offering the training course commercially.

In 2022 we upgraded the Mere and Mosses Cottages and at the beginning of 2023 completed the first phase of our improvements to the Wharf Cottage. This has created a much improved cloakroom/utility room facility and accessible toilet. The next phase will see the removal of the Conservatory and the building of a new extension in its place, providing greater space. We anticipate these works to be completed in time for the 2025 season.