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Keeping dreams alive for future
A motor-based education project which was set up 20 years ago in a bid to help troubled young people is now on a business footing. Telegraph & Argus reporter Rebecca Wright took to the Leeds-Liverpool Canal to find out how and why a profit-making plan spells a bright future for the group.
It was not without ceremony when a 12-year-old boy, of Great Horton, Bradford, handed out steaming cups of tea on a barge belonging to the marine division of Bradford Motor Education Project.
As he took the drinks order he eagerly asked each person how many sugars they wanted, before personally making and distributing each drink.
He was one of about six life-jacketed youngsters on board the barge after being referred by either Bradford's youth offending team or education services.
All of the children on the boat, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, were called-up as crew members to help them develop life skills and interests.
As the barge made its way from the charity's newly-acquired base at Shipley Wharf a lively chat broke out about lunch. With a budget of about £15 to feed everyone on board one teenager suggested cooking sausage, egg and beans but was shouted down by others who fancied a round of sandwiches and soup.
The first stop on these weekly outings is a supermarket next to a canal mooring in Shipley.
And after purchasing provisions the boat sets off to find a spot to stop and prepare lunch.
Adult youth workers, charity staff and volunteers co-ordinate the day's events, helping the youngsters with their choices, but never interfering with the reins of responsibility.
Newly renamed Deamweavers, the marine project is an off-shoot of the BMEP and is a strong foundation in the group's plans for the future.
The motor-based part of the project is already well established in Bradford, with community workshops in disadvantaged neighbourhoods such as Keighley, Fagley and Canterbury Estate.
It was two years ago that the charity expanded its services to include boats as well as vehicles.
The charity moored its two boats, the barge - nicknamed the Dream Boat - and a specialist vessel based on an Asian design, at the Shipley Wharf base.
And earlier this year the charity secured a ten-year lease of a unit and a stretch of water at the converted mill site on Wharf Street.
The lease from British Waterways is one of the factors contributing to the charity's five-year business plan which was drawn up with the help of Business Link West Yorkshire (BLWY), which also helped the project move to its Shipley premises.
In fact BMEP development manager Trevor Roberts said without the support and partnership of groups such as BLWY, the Countryside Agency and British Waterways the transition from charity to profitable business with charity status would have been impossible.
Rupert Shires, an advisor for Business Link said: "We are delighted to have been able to help the project carry through such an innovative diversification, which will help it realise the potential of the canal environment to develop the skills, and improve the prospects, of even more young people. We will help back BMEP to help them make the most of the relocation."
Mr Roberts, who has been with BMEP for 15 years, founded and developed the canal-based part of the project. He said the group hoped to build on the development of the district's regeneration.
Plans are afoot to develop the waterfront premises, which has room to moor ten boats, to provide a range of services for canal users. Much of the emphasis will be on developing partnerships with other organisations.
Young people would have a hand in providing the services, offering new development and skills opportunities from the same base.
Mr Roberts said the aim was to become less reliant on grants and funding from outside sources.
As the boat pulled away from its moorings the youngsters made ready to take it through a series of locks before whipping up lunch.
Lesley White, extended schools manager at Buttershaw Business and Enterprise College, said she could envisage many children benefiting. "It's just a really positive experience for them," she said.