Hi, I am Graham Lister. I have been asked to relate my time with Canal Connections and the effect it has had on me since that first sojourn, which I thought was a novelty one-off, on the Leeds Liverpool Canal from Kirkstall to Leeds and back, twelve months ago.
I am in my late sixties and had spent a lot of my time driving my mother about as she struggled with walking, until she passed away a couple of years ago. Looking back I allowed myself to fall into an unhealthy life of isolation, sitting in my pokey little flat watching television, when I was invited to a few hours cruise on a canal boat, which I never even considered could change the way I think and behave.
That trip, interacting with other guys in the same boat (excuse the pun), took me back to my working days, with all the humorous banter I sorely missed. It was like a dose of medicine. I got the bug and just wanted to go out on the water again so asked if and when that would be possible. When I was informed more volunteers were needed to be trained up to work the boat, I decided to have a go at the training, but was rather dubious as I hadn’t studied anything new in many years.
A few weeks in and we began taking a group of thirteen year old schoolchildren up and down the Aire and Calder Navigation. These kids had learning difficulties and I was struck with the amount of energy they had and their behavior when boarding. Over an hour had passed when I had a chat with their teacher, asking him if I was mistaken in seeing a difference in the boys and girls. “I can’t believe it; they would never interact like this with anyone until they knew them well, never mind total strangers”.
This statement had a profound effect on me as I have a brother who has been ‘different’ all his life, but never been diagnosed.
I began monitoring these guys individually and ended up building a personal trust with some of them that was very humbling. Trips from other schools followed with children from different backgrounds, with a whole range of personal realities which were eye opening. I became more and more interested in the word ‘autism’, which found me enrolling in a college course titled ‘understanding autism in children’.
I even did the dreaded homework, which I hated in my teens. It was a struggle, but when I completed the course I had gained so much confidence that I did what I had wanted to do for a long time: I started another course on creative writing, at the age of sixty-eight.
This past week I had an interview with a view to doing some voluntary work for a local charity that works with senior citizens, some of whom will be younger than myself. So, I guess this past year’s experiences have given me the wake-up call I never knew I needed. One thing’s for sure, it certainly put a smile back on my face and I enjoy waking up every day.
So, a huge thanks to Canal Connections, Float Your Boat and those great schoolchildren without whom I would still be vegetating alone, blaming society for my lot in life. That leaves me to highly recommend getting involved with any organisation that cares for others and believe me, when you do it feels like having spring cleaned your soul.
All the best to you and yours Graham