Awesome funding news for Narrowboat Farm

As many of you know i applied for a farm start-up grant back in October. Well it took a while but we have now been awarded the grant which in a round-about way is also great news for Community Owned Moorings (COMs).

Why? Well as Narrowboat Farm (NBF) is the pilot site for COMs, it is down to NBF to put in place an infrastructure to host the first COMs site. Apart from all the glorious (or long-winded, beurocratic, boring paperworky) permissions required, the biggest barrier to COM sites is set-up costs. Once a site is set up and boaters are paying fees, then all should be hunky-dory but access to land and putting in services is an expensive business. Plus, once the pilot site has proven it’s worth, it will be easier to attract investment in further sites.

We’ve managed to get a bare minimum infrastructure in place at NBF but now the grant will help expand this so there is sufficient water, electric, parking, storage, paths etc to service a number of boats. It’s still not going to be like turning up to one of SC’S shiny flagship sites, but then that’s partly the point of this project…

The other side to this is that the farm grant will give the required boost to get the land-based market garden enterprise up and running. What has this got to do with COMs? Well, a lot. The land-based enterprise is intended to link with the moorings and bring freight (on a very small scale) back to the canals for the first time in many years. 200 years ago farms built jetties and loaded their produce on to boats to go to local markets. Well we want to bring this back.

Linking the land project with the COM project widens the benefits of COMs vastly and brings wider community benefits. Think heritage, think tourism, think local food, think eco-friendly social enterprise… Without this it is harder to justify the project to supporters, there simply aren’t enough of us boaters to justify the investment (yet, that is!!!! COMs will hopefully increase the numbers of boaters and boat movements).

So great news and another step towards making the vision a reality 🙂

Iain

Narrowboat Farm has been dredged :-)

After weeks of procrastination, Scottish Canals have finally dredged the bank along the length (175m) of Narrowboat Farm! Oh and i’m going to repeatedly call it Narrowboat Farm to try to gt the name to stick!

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Look at this gorgeous gloop waiting to be shaped into a sumptuous edge:

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OK, you can tell i’m excited. So back to reality, they did two days of dredging so i’m not sure how thorough a job that is, but they also peeled back the weed on the off-side too. Given that the state of the canal here was OK to start with, i’m feeling pretty confident about the mooring potential for this stretch of canal. They even left the dredger in the canal overnight and boats could get past OK, so we could even be looking at the potential of widebeams being able to moor and other widebeams get past.

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This has now given a nice clear, rather wide looking stretch:

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I’m not 100% sure if they have finished as of writing because i only managed to get a quick chat with them at the end of day 1. I’m also not too sure how long they spent on Friday and today (Monday 27th June 2016). The plan now will be to shape the dredgings nicely and grass seed it to make a tidy edge.

Our meeting with Historic Environment Scotland is now due for the 1st July. Nic of narrowboat Billy is coming along to assist in this meeting. We will then get a good steer on permittable structures but even if things don’t go well initially with them, i am confident that we can establish bankside moorings without requiring their permission. That would also avoid any issues with Council planning permission until we request any residential status for moorings.

Also behind the scenes, myself and Alastair have been working on the spreadsheets to work out mooring costs etc. As well as this Katie Hughes has prepared a temporary licence to occupy meaning we can use the bank until November, by which time we will have hopefully completed the necessary paperwork to make everything official.

So we are still gradually creeping our way towards a first Community-Owned mooring site 🙂

So when can you bring your boats and moor i hear you ask? And how will moorings be assigned? Well my best answer to that is that until the Autumn anyone is welcome to visit and to peg in. Our temporary licence states that any boat may moor for up to two weeks then disappear for at least a week, it also stipulates that no residential use is permitted and all liabilities fall on us during this period. Mooring conditions are rather challenging given the current bankside conditions and i cannot recommend it on safety grounds. I have to say that really, but we’re going to do it. And others are too. And you can do it too if you are happy to take the risk. Although i would urge you to get in touch and get a helping hand for tying up. Especially any widebeamers, please get in touch before mooring.

Come the Autumn when we hopefully have everything official in place and we will look for early adopters of moorings then we will also have the agreed structure in place to agree on mooring costs and allocations. I would envisage a membership system of a charity entitled ‘Community Moorings Scotland’ or similar. We will probably work under a majority vote system for decisions. But more on that to come… happy days 🙂

May update on Narrowboat Farm!

So firstly, ‘Narrowboat Farm’ it is! No longer ‘field E of Park Farm’ or ‘Iain’s mud’ or whatever haha!

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This name reflects the dual-purpose nature of the site, both to moor boats and to create a local food supply. And the link between the two – using the canal for food transport in this area again for the first time (please correct me) in nearly 200 years! We have a draft logo for the site, feedback welcome on this but it seems to be very popular so far. The name and logo are also aimed at non-boaters, hence the obviousness of it and not worrying about the fact it doesn’t represent all types of boats that will be there. No offence intended to widebeams, cruisers and submarines 🙂

Here is a photo-based update on what has been going on at the site:

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All the physical work on site was on hold until the farmer came in to harrow, sow and roll the field to make a lovely meadow. Finally he made it in a couple of weeks ago and sowed this wildlife-friendly meadow-style mix. Jonathan of Tamarisk @ Bowling has been hugely helpful in advising on the farming side of things and is to thank for the amazing grass mix that has gone down. It should look pretty spectacular come summertime. As long as we get some rain soon to get the seed going! Here is the machine in all its oil-guzzling glory:

We’ve planted 2000 Willow cuttings (thanks to Vicky & Mike for helping) around the main areas of the field in the diagram below:

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The diagram above shows four main growing areas in the right half of the field, which will be broken out one-by-one starting this Autumn. There is a 15m wide strip along the canal as a garden space for boaters. There is parking and shed-building etc space near the field entrance.

We’re struggling for enough rain just now for the grass and willow to flourish but there are the first positive signs:

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Here is what the field looks like right now:

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Katie Hughes has sent through a draft ‘licence to occupy’ which should give us permission to use the site informally while we get all the lovely paperwork and permissions together to make this thing more permanent. The initial draft came through with very strict time restrictions (our boat can stay up to a week at a time, all other boats 48hrs) so i’m currently negotiating to make this more realistic and fair. Watch this space.

The dredger is STILL sat about 100m away and is still due to dredge the canal along the field. However disappointingly Richard Miller said that it wouldn’t be a full dredge along the 175m strip but a test dredge whatever that means. Rather frustratingly it seems that people are shouting louder for the dredger through near Glasgow and i suppose whoever shouts the loudest gets it…i would have thought if there was one site that could really justify a good dredge, it was this one. But i’m biased so hey-ho. Alasdair Hamilton from SC has said that next week is the likely weekfor dredging. So please don’t come and leave your boat tied up here just yet!

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We couldn’t resist tieing up for a couple of nights this week to ‘test’ the electric and water and width etc etc. Well that’s my excuse, i just wanted to be the first boat to tie up there for a night or two! I’m glad to say we got into the bank without too much trouble, but it does require a leap of faith of about 1m or so and gang-plank useage but that is to be expected. While we were there Eric on Nimbus came in. Nimbus is a cruiser and if anything got a wee bit closer in than us which is a surprise. So it seems that even without a dredge we could be looking not too bad for the condition of the bank…

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Whilst we were there a couple of hire boats passed and i was pleasantly surprised how much room there was. I can honestly say with our boat moored up there would be room for two narrowboats to pass each other (but probably only just). That bodes well for being able to moor up wider vessels.

I’ve made a few gang planks that can stay on the bank to help with anybody wanting to tie up before we have any structures in place. I’ve gone with a 6″,12″ and 18″ mix depending on how daring you are feeling! They are grip-painted too.

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An update on the field near Linlithgow

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After the recent lowland users meeting a group of us went to have a wee gander and get an update on progress at ‘the field’ or as Davie refers to it as the ‘Ponderosa’ which is a reference to this. I think Davie has grand ideas of the land!!!

Anyway, i want to give an update on this site and a flavour for the ‘masterplan’ here. Basically i have bought 4 acres with road access and it adjoins 175m of canal frontage which Scottish Canals owns the first 3m or so. So the moorings would be on Scottish Canal’s land but i intend to develop the land to service the moorings at hopefully very little cost to the moorings project to get a site up and running and ‘test the system’ for Community Moorings.

So here is a wee update on the moorings-side and the land-side of things:

Moorings (the canal bank basically)

  • A dredger is sat just along the canal at Park Bistro waiting to go to dredge the canal along the field. This is waiting on the Tug getting fixed and SC consulting with National Grid who own the pipeline that runs under the field. Alasdair Hamilton from SC is ‘hopeful’ this will be in the next few weeks. So a little vague on timings for that one.
  • Once the dredging is done then SC will ‘dip’ the canal again and that will give us the right info to assess the best method of mooring boats.
  • There is a wall running along at least part of the bank. From initial poking about there seems to be about a one foot straight drop into the water and then a stone shelf about two feet wide. So i’m wondering if this used to be a stone support for a wooden jetty? That could prove useful…
  • Once we know the structures we require, we will know if we will need Scheduled monument Consent from Historic (Environment) Scotland. If boats can get right up to a wall, this could be a major score as SMC would not be required, but that is wishful thinking
  • I have a meeting on 9th May with Katie Hughes and Steve Dunlop to present a more detailed business and management plan and go into more detail on the financials. This will be key to get the project financially viable.

Land

  • Electricity has been connected to the field and a very large (and very expensive) cable has been run under the field to the canal edge (but remaining off SC’s land to avoid them getting involved). This 3-phase supply will be beefy enough to expand to serve several boats if needed. An electrician is due in next week to connect it up and put it the first bollard with two 16-amp sockets to connect up.
  • Mains water has been run under the field too and to the canal bank (again off SC’s land) so there is a water supply too
  • In the next week or so the farmer we bought the land from is due in to sow grass seed. The temperature needs to raise above 7 degrees on average between day and night to allow the seed to grow.
  • Once the grass seed is down we have lots of building work to get on with. We plan to lay gravel and slabs as an entrance driveway and parking area near the entrance to the field
  • We plan to build a 10m x 6m shed initially to store equipment etc near the entrance.
  • I am planting 2000 willow trees as windbreaks and green hedging around the site. Willow grows really quick and is great for short-rotation coppicing.
  • We are going to erect a 6m diameter Mongolian Yurt as a ‘base’ to use so we don’t have to have our boats there to work away. There will be a cassette loo and shower (thanks Dougie and Bernadette!) too:

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So lots going on through May on the ground and behind the scenes. If everything goes exactly to plan and on time (which it blatantly won’t haha) then we could have some useable moorings to try out come June. But don’t quote me on that, it is more likely to be the end of summer if i’m realistic!

The plan is to use half of the land to start a new farming/market garden venture called ‘Narrowboat Farm’:

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Through this, i will hopefully be able to access funding to build a proper big shed and give room for lots of nice wee craft and cottage industries to compliment the fruit n veg. The angle is to load and deliver by boat and use the link to this use of the canal for the first time in 150/200 yrs ago as a hook. This is where ‘Narrowboat Jack’ comes in who is a character we will use to market the produce whilst educating and entertaining folks:

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More on him to come… 🙂

In terms of help, there will be two main elements over the next month:

  1. Behind the scenes help: We need to get a comprehensive business plan in place which is robust enough to present to SC and funders and hopefully gives us some good news that the project is viable!
  2. On the ground help: If anyone fancies some graft there will be plenty of building and gardening work coming up and the more hands the better on that one!

The field near Park Bistro (2 miles E of Linlithgow)

This is the potential site which has the most time and effort put into it thus far in terms of creating a location available for community moorings.

Firstly some photos…

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  • 175m of canal frontage
  • 4 acres of land
  • Road access
  • Water supply
  • Electric connection
  • 2 miles from Linlithgow

Just tootled past on the boat:

I bought this field in the winter after two years of cycling up and down the Union Canal looking for available land. Originally this was to facilitate the Greenspace project and also as a plot of land for my own interests, however as the intention was always to have moorings available for a number of boats as visitor moorings, my attention has now turned to creating this as one of the first Community Moorings sites.

For those not familiar, the Lowlands Canals Greenspace Initiative was my first stab at a canal-side social enterprise. The premise being making land available in the middle of the Union and F&C canals so boaters can store firewood, grow food, hold events etc etc. We were given land at Auchinstarry to use for free by SC and i brought in £5k funding and we now have a great wee community growing area. Unfortunately thanks to theft and vandalism our wood stores are gone and the swings, outdoor cinema and seating area were trashed. But the polytunnel and raised beds have been a fantastic success and will continue. However the Community Moorings Initiative has more value to the canals i believe and so i intend to suck up the Greenspace element into that.

So… the plan with this land is to put all the infrastructure in place on the land and make this available to the boating community. My plan is to begin a market garden venture on the land itself and use that business to pay for putting in the infrastructure e.g. electric, water, parking, internet, storage etc. The idea is to grow fruit n veg on the land, load on to boats and deliver locally – like they did 150 years ago! I’d love to see this venture expand into other foods and crafts (maybe a microbrewery and bakery in the barn???) and again use the canal for delivery. I have a funding deadline at the end of April and i should know this summer if that has been successful which will help build a barn and put in roads/paths etc. Already i have road access, electric connection and water so we’re half way there.

The first 3-5m of the land is owned by Scottish Canals and so the actual Community Moorings would be on their land and much like other sites, an access and business arrangement would be just as necessary as anywhere else. This also means that the land project and the moorings project can be viewed as hopefully working brilliantly together but not reliant on each other. For example if the moorings don’t happen, i can get on with the land-based project and vice versa. I don’t want to be overly pushy with this site if we want to start elsewhere, but at the same time my heart is in this site and i think it could be amazeballs.

I would love more input as to how to make the land work best for the moorings, so if you have ideas on this, please comment or get in touch.