New boat to offer free river trips

A £135,000 purpose-built boat – designed to give free trips to elderly and disabled people – was launched on the River Great Ouse yesterday (Tuesday). St John Ambulance commissioned The Ladybird and will use the boat to take up to 20 people on day-long o

A £135,000 purpose-built boat - designed to give free trips to elderly and disabled people - was launched on the River Great Ouse yesterday (Tuesday).

St John Ambulance commissioned The Ladybird and will use the boat to take up to 20 people on day-long or half-day trips along the river between its mooring at Hartford Marina and St Ives.

Trips are expected to take place twice a week, with passengers invited by St John Ambulance from groups who look after elderly, disadvantaged and disabled people.

The outings will be offered free of charge but with a request for a donation to the charity.

Eventually, St John Ambulance hopes to expand the service and to offer bookings to the wider community and the potential for trips further afield - the boat has permission to go as far as Peterborough in one direction and Cambridge in the other.

However, St John Ambulance spokesman, Mark Overland, said: "At four miles an hour, which is the speed limit for the river, this will be a leisurely cruise, we will probably reach no further than St Ives.

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"We can serve teas and coffees, trippers can bring a picnic or we will stop at restaurants along the way. We have a special deal with The Captain's Table at Hartford Marina."

Mr Overland added that the charity hoped that elderly people in care homes, some of whom rarely go out, would be able to enjoy a trip in the fresh air.

The Ladybird project has been five years in the making. In 2003, Air Marshall Sir John Baird, who was then chair of the St John Council in Cambridgeshire, went to see a care boat scheme in Nottinghamshire and was so impressed he vowed to bring the service to Cambridgeshire.

On Tuesday the honour of launching the Ladybird was given to Sir John's wife, Lady Baird.

Head of Cambridgeshire St John Ambulance, Commander Ivan Palmer MBE said, "We are all extremely excited by this innovative new project. St John Ambulance in Cambridgeshire is constantly expanding its services to the community and in so many different ways, the Ladybird care boat is an example of our commitment to this continued expansion".

The Ladybird will be staffed entirely by volunteers. The first trips should start within the next two weeks.

Funding for the boat has included a legacy of £50,000 left to St John, plus £50,000 from The Big Lottery and a lot of fundraising work.

INFORMATION: More volunteers are needed to crew The Ladybird. For details, contact Mark Overland on 07815767565.