TAKE a walk along the towpath of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal at any time of the year, and you are almost guaranteed to pass someone in a very short space of time. Whether they are on foot, walking or running, on a bike, or in a boat. They might be taking part in a sponsored challenge, their visit ma y be solely for leisure, but they may also work or live on the canal, and they may also be homeless, and are living there away from the bustle of towns.

Some of those people may need help, and a project aimed at helping the vulnerable is expanding to Craven.

A meeting is due to be held in Skipton next month for anyone interested in volunteering to become a chaplain on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.

There are now more than 70 volunteer waterways chaplains across the country, walking the towpaths, visiting marinas and taking an interest in the people of both the canals and rivers who live, work or simply go there to soak up the atmosphere and to relax.

The chaplains are there to offer help if needed, whether its to point people to essential services, or tell them where to access the nearest food bank.

Chaplains say that it has become clear that there are significant numbers of lonely and isolated people living within the restricted confines of narrow boats many of who are cut off from society. Some may turn to drugs or alcohol, while others with mental health problems can easily withdraw into their boats. away from main communities.

There are many different and diverse communities on the waterways. There are businesses serving the millions of visitors such as walkers, cyclists, holidaymakers, canoeists, anglers, Canal and River Trust staff,

volunteers and also the homeless.

All chose to spend time on the waterways – a place where people meet and relationships can grow. The most visible of these communities are boaters who travel across the canals and rivers - for many different reasons.

The northern region, of which Craven is part, and where the waterways chaplaincy project is being expanded to - is supported by Debbie Nouwen, a seasoned boat dweller, an Anglican Ordinand and someone with long experience of supporting people who are vulnerable.

When a chaplaincy to people living on and around Britain’s waterways was first mooted a few years ago it might have sounded a bit odd - even unnecessary, because boating is relaxing and a lot of fun, she says.

Clearly, our beautiful canals and rivers are indeed where a lot of people go to relax and unwind, but just a very few years down the road from the first pilot projects to determine the need, it has become very clear that many of these two million or so people have fallen through the net as far as practical Christian ministry is concerned.

“Some of our chaplains are boat owners themselves but most are not,” she says.

“They come from a range of different Christian denominations and are both ordained and lay members of the church. Their commitment is to walk along a length of towpath regularly, simply talking to, and connecting with the people they meet and being ready to offer practical, emotional and spiritual support where appropriate.”

Chaplains should be active Christians and need to be good listeners and have empathy, the ability to understand and share the concerns and feelings of others. They need to be able to commit to walking a designated part of the canal - usually about at least a mile every week -and need an ability to understanding their own response to a given situation, such as supporting a vulnerable person.

They also need to be kind and show concern for others in their community, and to be able to work as part of a team, to attend chaplaincy meetings, and training days.

Waterways chaplains wear a distinctive gilet which immediately identifies them and need to be knowledgeable about local resources such as doctors and dentists, and where the food banks are.

They are connected to the church in the area, but to minister ‘outside the walls of the church’ in order to seek out the ‘the disadvantaged, the disillusioned and the disappeared’.

All volunteer chaplains are trained and are supported, says Debbie.

“From my perspective this is a fascinating and eminently worthwhile way for Christian people to be involved with those who are often left out in the cold.”

Anyone interested in finding our more is urged to attend the event at Christ Church, Cross Street, Skipton on Tuesday, July 17 at 11am, or to contact Debbie Nouwen at Deborah.nouwen@workplacematters.org.uk. For more information, visit the website: waterwayschaplaincy.org.uk