All Aboard: Navigating life together


A grant from Allchurches Trust is supporting a partnership between Polwarth Parish Church and People Know How, as they jointly purchase a purpose-built canal boat to be moored at the church’s pontoon and used as a unique space for relationship building, learning and community fun.

Polwarth Parish Church sits on the banks of the Union Canal in Edinburgh and is warmly known as the Kirk on the Canal. Over the past decade, it has maximised the value of two of its most important resources – its unique landscape and its remarkable ability to build relationships with others.

The community canal boat will be centred on relationship building and once in the water will serve as a safe space to gather, socialise and improve wellbeing. The boat will also host People Know How’s projects supporting children, young people, adults and families, while providing volunteering experience on the boat.

As part of the pilot, the partnership hired a canal boat and hosted workshops for primary and secondary school students, a pop-up café, and a congregational boat trip – all proved to be a resounding success!

People talking and enjoying the boat
A view from the boat of the church

Polwarth Parish Church and People Know How used the time during lockdown to prepare for the commissioning of the new purpose-built canal boat. 

They also found alternative ways of connecting with the community despite lockdown measures, with People Know How adapting their services to  continue to deliver community support online and over the phone during this time.

The journey so far…

• In 2012, Kirk on the Canal reached an agreement with the Scottish Waterways Trust to adopt the canal bank adjacent to the church.

• In 2017, the first Canal Shed was established. Open to all including referrals from GPs and social services, the Canal Shed is a thriving place where crafts, skills and the heritage of the canal is explored and shared. 

• In 2018, the Polwarth Pontoon was built and the church began fundraising to purchase its own canal boat. At the same time, People Know How was considering a way to enhance its Positive Transitions service for young people by developing its access to the Union Canal. 

• In June 2019, the church and People Know How undertook a pilot with a hired canal boat and subsequently committed to a five-year plan - ‘All Aboard: Navigating life together’ was launched.

• In 2020, lockdown happened and the project ran a campaign to collect stories along the canal, continuing to engage with the community in a difficult time

The Vicar and a child steer the boat
A smiling man holding his cup of tea on the boat

In October 2020, Polwarth Parish Church received a Hope Beyond grant of £6,250 to support its overall digital capacity in engaging with the community, during lockdown and looking to the future. The funding went towards the installation of audio and visual equipment for the church.

Fast forward to 2021, and the All Aboard canal boat is ready to take to the waters! 

On Saturday 25th September 2021, Polwarth Parish Church and People Know How will be officially launching the new canal boat.

In February 2021, the two partners finalised the purchase of the custom-built canal boat, and in June the boat was craned into the Union Canal.

The launch invites the community on board the new boat and offers many opportunities to get involved with the All Aboard project, from manning the boat, to providing support through art, music, and meditation. 

“The launch comes at a pivotal time in the canal community’s recovery from the pandemic, and we’re really looking forward to start hosting sessions and projects as well as new volunteers interested in this unique opportunity.” – Anna Philbrick, All Aboard Coordinator

No alt text available
First voyage on Kirk on the Canal