Novelist Julia Thum talks to Pat & Simon Davis who founded The Rivertime Boat Trust ten years ago, after learning that wheelchair users found it difficult and unsafe to get on a friend’s passenger boats.
“We feel enormously lucky to live on the river “ said Pat, who wakes with her husband to a glorious chorus of songbirds and the sound of rowers’ oars ‘dipping and dripping’ as they pull across the water. “Simon grew up on the Thames and I sometimes think he has river water running through his veins,”
A quick coffee and Simon and the dog hop onto their electric boat and cross the river for a chat with the lock keeper and a walk along tow path, enjoying the sound of tractors and the morning cockerel from a nearby farm.
“I love the early morning solitude,” said Simon, “because once I get back the phone never stops ringing. People wanting to know about the boat; how does it work, where will it be, will you tell us more about it?”
“There’s a lot of admin,” agreed Pat, “we run the charity like a business - we must as it is a huge responsibility; we have a diverse team of wonderful volunteers headed by our lovely full time skipper Lucy and as there are a number of people on our boats at any one time so we have to make sure it works. We’ve had a life time of managing and running businesses, and it seems natural for us to go on doing this even though, at our age, many people might have given up.”
“No two days are ever the same which is enormously invigorating,” added Simon, “we could be answering the telephone, fund raising, writing thank you letters for donations or talking to trustees. We’ve published three books, we’re creative, we like to think outside the box and I think that differentiates us from other organisations. We don’t follow the crowd!”
“We try and do the ‘important but necessary stuff in the winter’, explained Pat,
“Pat’s awfully good at all that,” Simon chipped in, “she gets us all organised and once the New Year is in, we sit down each morning and go through a list - we reach out to care homes, charities and community groups, sending them all a letter and a schedule at the beginning of the year.”
“We talk to a lot of special needs schools too,” added Pat, “so we might jump in the car and go for a visit. We don’t do Powerpoint, we prefer to talk to people. We take our big model of Rivertime to show so they can have some idea of what kind of boat to expect. But we’re not entirely in the dark ages. Last year we launched our Facebook Page and we’re on Twitter and Instagram and `LinkedIn too. It’s important to move with the times.”
“We love the spring,” Simon said, “Lucy and her team spend hours cleaning the boat and then it’s time to get it down to Reading and get the season going. We try and meet the passengers, it’s just fantastic to see people benefiting from the charity and able to enjoy something they have never experienced before.”
“We get the loveliest thank you letters and pictures from the children,” said Pat, “we have a wonderful album here at home and now they can send them to us on Facebook too. And their photos. They’re all a delight to see.”
“Summer is the season of regattas. Pat and I are lucky enough to watch the Henley Regatta from Phyllis Court which is such a treat. Then there’s The Regatta for Disabled at the end of the summer. We were instrumental in starting that and it’s been a great success. Everybody has a lovely day - last year 700 people attended, 150 of whom were in wheel chairs, and 350 went out on a boat which is marvellous. It’s important for able and disabled people to enjoy time and experiences together on the river.”
“People are very interested in what we do. We’re so lucky. We have partnerships with Sport England for our work at Bisham Abbey and also with Rotary clubs, grant giving trusts and The River & Rowing Museum. And we’re working with the English Federation of Sport and paralympians, trying to think ahead as to how we can grow this to people’s benefit,” Pat said,
“We were very proud when Pat was awarded an MBE on behalf of the Trust,” Simon said, “and the charity was honoured to receive The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service as well as to have been featured on Songs of Praise which was a great thrill.”
“But we try not to rest on our laurels,” concluded Pat, “we sit down and review the day; what we’ve achieved, what’s new. We are always learning and wondering how we can do things better.
If the weather’s nice, Simon goes up the river in his punt before the sun goes down. He first took me and my little dog on a punt 53 years ago and though I don’t go with him now, it’s still romantic to see him heading off upstream with the sun setting over the weeping willows. We enjoy reading and a little television in the evenings and talking about what we will do tomorrow.
For further information on The Rivertime Boat Trust, or to make a booking, please visit http://www.rivertimeboattrust.org.uk or telephone 07599 29 55 44
Member since: 12th June 2016
Ginger Black is the pen name for writing partnership Julia Thum & Gaynor Pengelly whose novel Riverside Lane - a village mystery set in Bray - is available at Story in Bray or through the author's Facebook...
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