Moo Canoes have been getting the people of East London out onto the canals for years. We spoke to Alfie, one of the founders, about getting outside on the water and giving back to the community.
What are Moo Canoes and what is the service you provide?
Moo Canoes provide canoe and kayak hire on the East London Canal Network. They are one of only two commercial operators licensed to offer kayak tours on the Thames tideway with bases in Limehouse and Poplar Union.
They are also a delivery partner for British Canoeing, Sport England and LLDC, providing kayak taster sessions on the Olympic Park waterways every summer. Their third base is the Milk Float Barge, a canoe hire venue and floating café, bar and event space permanently moored in Hackney Wick.
Moo Canoes have recently launched paddle boarding intro and intermediate coaching sessions from Poplar Union, which are proving very popular. They have also created the East End Canoe Polo Club, based out of Poplar Union. In their first season, the club won the South East Regional league and came 5th at the national championships.
How did Moo Canoes begin and what inspired you to create an activity like this in East London?
Moo Canoes is the brainchild of Katy Hogarth and Alfie Hatt. The pair began working together leading Thames trips on the western and central reaches of the tideway from Chelsea back in 2011.
Inspired by the general lack of paddlesport hire provision in London and the fantastic opportunity presented by the historic and beautiful waterways of East London, they set up Moo Canoes in 2012 with the hope of opening up the sport they loved to their city.
Since then, the response has been fantastic and their company has helped over 12,000 people get out there and enjoy London’s waterways in an active way! Canoeing and kayaking are no longer the reserve of club paddlers and boat owners – literally anyone can grab a boat and give it a go.
What are the benefits of canoeing and kayaking and being out there on the water in general?
Paddlesport is a fantastic way to stay fit. It’s ultra low-impact and a fantastic core conditioner, not to mention a good aerobic workout if you push hard enough! There is a growing body of evidence to support the thesis that being close to water is very good for emotional wellbeing.
We have also found that engaging with the water through paddlesport is great way of bringing home the issues affecting London’s waterways at the moment: chiefly pollution and litter. Off the back of this, many people find it very uplifting to take part in our monthly clean up events, doing their bit to give something back and make the world a better place.
What do you enjoy most about working for Moo Canoes?
For us, it is a pleasure to be able to spend our time introducing others to the sport and waterways we love so dearly. Watching people have a fantastic time enjoying waterways that were practically unused by the general public only six years ago is incredibly satisfying. It’s often hard work, and few people realise quite how much effort and how many unpaid hours we put in behind the scenes to keep the show on the road, but we’re very proud of what we have created and the service we provide to Londoners and visitors to the capital.
From my perspective as a director, perhaps the most satisfying element of the job has been creating a new industry right here on my doorstep, one that employs a large number of young people from the local area, giving them a wide range of skills and offering them a good income in this tough economy. Many of our staff are young people that I have worked with for many years, in some cases having taught them to paddle from a very early age. I am very proud that our business has been able to bring pleasure to so many clients and offer a livelihood to our valuable employees.
What do your litterpicks mean to you, and how does this relate to your view of the environment?
Litterpicks have been part of our business since we started the company. We actually held our first litter pick before we had our first clients out on the water, so you could even argue that it predates the commercial side of our operation. It’s a great opportunity for the local community to take a stand against pollution and make a positive difference.
Our litterpicks are about us giving back to the community and the canal, and about providing a portal for the community to positively impact its own local water space.
Now for the rant: for us, litter and pollution is a very real problem affecting London’s waterways and there are no authorities making any meaningful effort to resolve the problem, hence our involvement. We have been instrumental in setting up three adoption groups which essentially cover the areas of the canal network that we operate on: the Lower Regents Coalition, the Friends of the Limehouse Cut and the Wick Waterways Partnership. Between these groups, we have the largest active canal volunteer network in East London and our impact on the waterways that surround us is well documented on social media.
However, ultimately we’re fighting fires and the root causes of the problem are not being addressed. Despite hundreds of fantastic volunteers turning out every month from the local community, collecting many hundreds of bags of waste a year between them, the canals continue to be an unchecked dumping ground for litter and other pollutants. Our hope is that these litterpicks, which we run at considerable financial loss, will ultimately inspire government and the authorities responsible for these waterways to introduce policy, legislation and clean-up schemes to protect these fantastic assets from falling into further disrepair and contamination.
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