[corner-ad id=”1″]The Wooden Canal Boat Society (WCBS) has the second largest collection of wooden canal boats in the UK. Rather than simply restore and preserve them, The WCBS is finding new uses for these old boats by putting them to work on behalf of the community, whilst also providing opportunities for people to learn new skills, meet other people, make new friends and do something useful and rewarding.

The WCBS has up to 100 volunteers per year, but is almost always looking for more.

As well as needing volunteers to assist with boat building, repairs and crewing, there is also the administrative and fund-raising side of the Society. This includes trustees, fund-raising, our charity shop, the newsletter, marketing, web site and social support.

If you think you might be able to spare some time and can help out in some way, please get in touch.


The core activity is the preservation and maintenance of the six historic wooden canal boats owned by the Society. These activities are carried out at The Heritage Boatyard and at Portland Basin, in Ashton-under-Lyne.

The WCBS has several key projects:

  • Maintaining and displaying our boats and informing the public about their history, as well as our canal heritage, and the work of the WCBS.
  • Three working boat trips a month for community recycling.
  • Our Charity Shop, on Stamford Street Central, Ashton-under-Lyne.
  • Our continued and increased use of our residential well-being boat, Hazel, enabling people to use it as a way of relaxing. Available for short, paid trips and overnight accommodation.

The boats are currently displayed at Portland Basin, adjacent to the Social History Museum. They are available for the general public and views within some of the boats can be arranged. We also provide guides, leaflets and display boards to explain the history, construction and operation of wooden canal boats. The Society also travels further afield with the boats, taking them to boat festivals to spread information about them to the wider public, as well as what WCBS does.

The Society runs monthly boat trips along the Ashton canal to collect surplus clothing and household goods. Suitable items from these trips are resold from the shop, and online, whilst others are recycled and reused.

For some, volunteering with the Wooden Canal Boat Society is about getting out of the house and meeting new people and doing something useful. For others it is an opportunity to learn new skills, or putting their existing skills to work and giving something back. It may also be a route back to work.

Through its activities, the Society provides opportunities for meaningful work. It also helps people to be fit, active and remain healthy for longer.

Volunteering activities include boat handling, boat building, maintenance, repair, boat sitting, community recycling, van driving, charity shop sales, tourist information, industrial heritage, marketing, project development and fundraising.

The society is also about wellbeing, by reducing the risk of social isolation or exclusion, and creating a relaxing, “away from it all” environment. It is therefore a source of help for people who are unemployed, socially isolated and/or in poor mental health.

The activities of the Society are dependent upon many Volunteers, who work with, or on, the boats, in the charity shop, on crew on boat trips, on recycling trips, and in the management of the society.

All this work means that, as well as helping people with issues in their lives, these historical wooden canal boats are being maintained as assets, working for the community, bringing our heritage back to life and filling our waterways with colour and enjoyment.

A Short History of the Wooden Canal Boat Society

In 1974, Chris Leah was a student at Chester College, living on boats to save money. He bought a full length wooden narrow boat called Lilith for £100. The boat needed repairs and Chris set about doing them. Before long, Chris had acquired a second boat, Sarah, later renamed Forget Me Not.

In May, 1987, the Wooden Canal Craft Trust was formed. This was initially a small group of friends who wanted to build a future for Lilith and Sarah but The 1989 British Waterways Bill threatened to introduce new regulations that would make the work of the Wooden Canal Craft Trust virtually impossible and force most owners of historic wooden craft to destroy them. The Trust petitioned against it.

The Trust’s case against the Bill was put at the Lords Committee stage and several witnesses called. This, and negotiations over the next two years, resulted in substantial changes in the legislation, together with the beginnings of a recognition of the importance of the floating heritage by British Waterways.

By the Spring of 1995, The Wooden Canal Craft Trust owned six boats, Elton, Forget Me Not, Hazel, Lilith, Southam and Queen and The trustees of the Wooden Canal Craft Trust decided that the way forward was to become a company and a registered charity. To do this they needed to form a new organisation with a new constitution. The Wooden Canal Boat Society was subsequently established, in 1996, and was registered as a non profit making co-operative company, limited by guarantee. It became a registered charity in 1998.

The Wooden Canal Craft Trust was wound up in March 1997 and its assets handed over to the WCBS. In October 1996, our first boat moved to the Portland Basin Museum in Ashton. The Society needed a proper boatyard and, in 1999, Tameside Council provided a site at Knowl Street in Stalybridge.

As well as creating a fully functional Heritage Boatyard, the society is now involved in a range of activities, aimed at preserving and using these wooden narrow boats.