We look forward to seeing you onboard

2019 – How it all started

The idea for a Milton Keynes Community Boat that offered waterway experiences for all  was born out of discussions in early 2019 between three organisations:

– Crest Nicholson, who wanted a community trip boat to animate their new development at Campbell Wharf.
– The Parks Trust who wanted to encourage people to explore all the parkland that runs alongside the canal.
– Bedford & Milton Keynes Waterway Trust, where volunteers wanted to raise support for the Trust, and the proposed Bedford & Milton Keynes Waterway Park, by demonstrating the value of offering enjoyable waterway experiences for everyone.

The Grand Union Canal in Milton Keynes offers a wonderful 11-mile stretch of lock-free cruising that gives a totally different view of Milton Keynes. Spending a couple of hours meandering through it on a canal boat, with crew to take care of everything, is a quick way to relax and unwind.

So the three organisations formed a Project Team and settled on a 12-guest boat as being the most simple to operate, and of a size that would work well on the busy waterway through MK. We looked first for an accessible second-hand trip boat.

There were none to be had. Then we looked for a boat to convert. None to be found at a price that made conversion worth it.

Becoming electric

Discussion turned to specifying a new boat. In a time of climate crisis, diesel seemed out of the question for a boat that will have at least a 50-year life. We explored diesel-hybrid solutions but decided to pin our colours to our mast and go wholly green, not just for propulsion but in the way we run cruises. So out went single use items, in came reusables, recycling, and working with local suppliers.

From a tendering exercise we chose Colecraft Engineering Ltd as our preferred contractor and negotiated a unique specification developed with Fischer Panda, which will support up to 10 hours cruising in a day.

Alongside the specification activity Trust volunteers ran five public meetings from July 2019 to March 2020, building up contacts with potential volunteers and supportive local organisations. The Milton Keynes Canalside Forum, which brings together businesses, canal users, and the 11 Parish/Town Councils through which the Grand Union Canal flows, also backed the project.

2020 – Raising the funds to commission the boat

Fundraising began with a trust contribution, an appeal to trust members, and a bid to Milton Keynes Community Foundation for support to make the boat electric and wheelchair-accessible.

Milton Keynes Council then allocated Section 106 development funding from Campbell Wharf to the pot, and we had the necessary £140K in place by September 2020 to commission the build from October 2020.

During this time Trust volunteers had also developed a business plan and started all the work needed to obtain an Operating Licence from the Canal & River Trust.

 

Volunteering through Covid

By now the Covid pandemic had been in full flow for six full months. Meetings were virtual, recruiting and training stopped, and the build was slowed by supply chain issues.

Trust volunteers were still busy fundraising – this time for the £25K needed to fully equip the boat and its crew – and, thanks to local Parish/Town Councils, MK Councillors, local Rotary Clubs and the national Postcode Community Trust, had raised this by the time the boat arrived and was craned in at Willowbridge Marina early in May 2021 and formally launched later that month.

We set to work on the boat – adding the name (chosen after a public consultation) and livery, adding all the final kit, and, crucially, getting volunteers on board for socially distanced practical training and ‘crew sea trials’, taking Electra out with friends and family as guineapig guests.

On shore, volunteers set to and created a cruise programme, marketing materials, and most important of all, started building a social media presence for Electra on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

By late July we were ready to start cruising, with 25 boat crew and a further 6 volunteers working on shore. Although Covid restrictions had just been reduced, we decided to run with a maximum of 8 guests on board and put in place a set of ‘Covid practices’ for the whole season.

This included keeping the bow windows open in winter – but guests have wrapped up warm and enjoyed the great outdoors from on board Electra.

 

2021 – Our first short season

From late July to mid-December, Bedford & Milton Keynes Waterway Trust volunteers ran a total of 189 cruises, carrying 1,250 guests on board Electra with extremely positive feedback. Electra has great in-kind support from Crest Nicholson (pontoon facilities) and The Parks Trust (marina mooring).

Once Electra was cruising we were able to start recruiting again, in order (ambitiously!) to double our crew – and therefore cruise and guest numbers– in 2022.

Most of the new crew have been recruited, and half are already trained. March will see us completing initial training and running refresher training, while bookings open for 2022 cruises from April to December.

Looking ahead to 2022

We now welcome up to 12 guests on board, and we continue to sanitise Electra every cruise.

There are plenty of public cruises and private charters from the heart of Milton Keynes at Campbell Wharf. This year we also cruise from Great Linford Manor Park, where The Parks Trust has given Electra use of a visitor mooring.

We’re running even more food cruises: Curry Cruises, Coffee and Cake, Jubilee Teas … and more later in the year.

We’ve introduced 4-hour return cruises which will let us go north from Campbell Park to New Bradwell, and south to Water Eaton. And from time to time we’ll be able to venture even further, to Cosgrove Lock across the two aqueducts, or into the countryside around Stoke Hammond.

We’ll continue our programme of Special Events with local organisations and build our programme of Sponsored Cruises for groups that don’t currently make use of the canal and adjoining parkland.

We’re building further partnerships for catering and activity on board, and work with organisations in the Canalside Forum to enhance the canalscape and community activity on our route.

 

Find out more

You can follow Electra across social media, just seach for: @ElectraBoatMK

If you have questions, comments or suggestions about ‘what next’ for Electra, please do get in touch at electra@bmkwaterway.org  Our volunteers are happy to share our experience so far and work with you to improve what Electra can offer in the future.