River Canal Rescue provides support as ‘Idle Women’ tour gets underway

Idle Women poster
Photo of idle women

River Canal Rescue will be providing free breakdown and emergency assistance for Kate Saffin’s and Heather Wastier’s ‘The Idle Women’ theatrical tour which retraces the 320 mile route wartime trainees working on Grand Union Canal Carrying Company (GUCC) boats would have taken 75 years ago.

Performers and crew for the Alarum Theatre Group’s, ‘The Idle Women; Recreating the Journey’ will be performing and travelling on an historic 80 year-old working boat and a support narrowboat.

The Second World War trainees took three weeks to do the journey, Alarum will take three months, performing its show ‘Idle Women of the Wartime Waterways’, 50 times in 40 venues. It tells the stories of the young women - later nicknamed ‘Idle Women’ - who worked on 72 foot narrowboats carrying 50 tons of cargo during World War II.

‘Idle Women of the Wartime Waterways’ was born a year ago when Kate Saffin met poet and musician Heather Wastier on Twitter and they discovered they both had pieces about the women trainees. After the war had ended in 1945, one of them, Susan Woolfitt, wrote a book and titled it Idle Women (the IW coming from the women trainee’s National Service badge) and it stuck.

Alarum founder, Kate, approached River Canal Rescue for support as she wanted the tour to involve women as widely as possible so a company led by a woman, Stephanie Horton, felt like a great fit.

“Both boats are well maintained,” says Kate Saffin, “but RCR’s offer of breakdown cover means that we know if something does go wrong we can rely on prompt and expert help to get us on our way again.”

“The wartime trainees weren’t expected to be mechanics as well as boaters and there are many accounts of them having to call out engineers, so it would historically accurate, but I think you can take authenticity a bit too far... I’ll be happy with knowing they are there just in case,” she laughed.

Stephanie Horton, CEO of River Canal Rescue adds: “RCR has supported many charities and projects over the years, and we are always happy to support new and interesting events to keep our canal heritage alive.”

As well as thanking River Canal Rescue, Kate Saffin – who started and helps to admin the London Boatwomen’s Facebook group - also told LB News that London boaters had played an important part of the development of the show.

“London’s boaters have been incredibly supportive as we’ve tested out the show and then developed it adding new material,” said Kate Saffin.

“But the community has contributed far more than just ticket sales – the tour manager, Zoe Hunn, is a boater, as is arts admin student Pernille Iverson, who is volunteering some time each week to help with admin, and the promotional film was made by boater and film maker, Erin Hopkins, and some of London’s boatwomen are planning to join the journey and help crew Tench” she added.

The show is a double bill of a solo play by Kate and a collection of poetry and music by Heather – and the development owes a lot to boaters in London. The first performance was a preview early last year at the Barge House in Haggerston to a sold-out, mostly boating, audience. Then – after a bit of “polishing” - ‘Idle Women’ toured the Staffs & Worcs and Shropshire Union canals over the summer and ended back in London in November to play two packed shows at the Rosemary Branch in Islington. During the summer the idea for this year’s tour emerged – quite simply to recreate the journey the women trainees had originally followed to transport their cargo.

The ‘Idle Women’ tour starts on 22 April at the site of the GUCC depot at Bull’s Bridge, West London, before heading into London on the Paddington arm and to Limehouse via the Regents Canal (where boats would have been loaded with steel or timber). Then it’s up to Birmingham via the Grand Union (where cargo would have been unloaded) and onto Coventry (where coal would be reloaded to bring back to London) before making their return journey to Camden on 5 August for the final show.

A skipper and two crew will be on the 70 foot working boat NB Tench which was built in 1936 and is a single motor craft constructed with wrought iron plate sides and a three inch elm bottom. ‘Tench’ was one of the last two narrowboats built at the WJ Yarwood and Sons yard at Northwich, Cheshire. Its modern counterpart NB Morning Mist will house the production team and two performers, Kate Saffin and Heather Wastier, providing catering and lock-wheeling support.

To find out more about the tour or to join the crew, click here to visit www.alarumtheatre.co.uk

To find out more about River Canal Rescue visit www.rivercanalrescue.co.uk

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