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Therapy services – Hazel, the wellbeing boat

Hazel the Therapy Boat moored on the canal
Hazel, a beautifully restored wooden canal boat on which you can enjoy a cruise to improve your wellbeing. We spoke to Chris Leah, the man behind the initiative.

Each month we will be running a feature looking at therapy services which are available throughout Manchester. Our first story is looking at Hazel, a beautifully restored wooden canal boat on which you can enjoy a cruise to improve your wellbeing. We spoke to Chris Leah, the man behind the initiative.

Chris, tell us about Hazel, how did the wellbeing boat start?
That’s a long story. I took to the canals and started restoring wooden boats because intermittent episodes of depression got in the way of my pursuing a conventional career. When myself and a few others started the Wooden Canal Boat Society, at a time of high unemployment, one of our first projects was a busking boat travelling the canals with volunteers putting on shows along the way to raise funds for tree planting. Many of the volunteers on this project reported that just being on the boat boosted their mental well being. When “Hazel” was donated to the charity it seemed a good idea to restore her specifically as a boat for boosting peoples mental well being.

What can someone expect if they use Hazel as a therapeutic service?
We’ve designed the “Hazel” project to be as flexible as possible. Pre pandemic we were having monthly “Hazel” Friends days. These were drop ins for anyone interested in coming on board for a brew a piece of cake and a chat. Post pandemic we intend to restart this.

Many people enjoy simply staying aboard the boat overnight. Again, we’ve been surprised at the positive feedback we’ve got for something so simple. Day trips can be arranged too for up to 12 people ranging from 2 hours to 8 hours duration. Trips can be combined with overnight stays (max 8 persons). One favourite combination is to take “Hazel” for a trip to Marple Aqueduct or Chadkirk (about 4 hours), leave her there overnight, then return her to Ashton the following day. Longer holidays aboard “Hazel” can also be arranged of a week or a fortnight.

“Hazel” has a wheelchair lift available and extra manoeuvring space can be made inside. The bathroom is accessible.

Once we’re over lockdown, how can someone book a trip on Hazel?
Anyone who wants to use “Hazel” for their mental well being is welcome to join “Hazel” Friends. To arrange a trip or a holiday simply email or contact Chris on 07931 952 037 to discuss possibilities.

Chris introduced us to Chrissie who has used Hazel as part of their recovery. She told us:
“Had the most enjoyable experience on “Hazel” absolutely unique, charming and enjoyable for all ages. Chris and his team are so welcoming, providing everything you could need and more. Although 100  years old the boat is full on mod cons yet you still feel you’ve gone back years, amazing and we can’t wait to  visit again.”

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