Shipshape and Bristol fashion: all aboard for better mental health

This February saw the launch of a new boat in Bristol harbour… one which is designed to help improve the mental health of local older people.

The launch is the culmination of the Building Boats; Building Lives project, part of an innovative programme of water-based activities – hosted by All Aboard Watersports Centre in Bristol – which aims to boost mental health in older people.

The programme was delivered by Age UK Bristol and funded by an NHS Charities Together community partnerships grant secured by Bristol Health Partners Active Lives Health Integration Team (HIT).

Age UK research published in 2021 found that 36% of older people in the UK (around 5.8 million) had told the charity that they felt more anxious since the start of the pandemic and 43% (around 6.9 million) said they felt less motivated do the things they enjoyed.  

Over 50s enrolled on two Building Boats; Building Lives projects to build a Wemyss Skiff at weekly sessions over six months. Group members took part in all aspects of the build from woodworking to painting, supported by a trained boat builder from Bristol Classic Boat Company: Rolt’s Boat Yard.

The wider activity programme, which began in 2022, also included indoor and outdoor rowing courses aimed particularly at those who had never rowed before. Participants accessed courses through social prescribing link workers as well as by self-referral. The activities reached more than 200 people in the community; 26 people took part in the two Building Boats; Building Lives courses.

As well as learning new skills, nearly all participants who had begun the courses with different mental health challenges said they felt happier after taking part in their chosen activity and less anxious.

Jim, who took part in a Learn to Row course, said: ‘’Since the pandemic I have been working remotely as a tutor and although I enjoy my role I wanted to have more face to face contact with other people. My wife saw an advert for Age UK Bristol’s rowing sessions at All Aboard so I signed up …

“I felt the group sessions available are important for both my mental and physical wellbeing. It reduces the burden on the health service because there’ll be fewer illnesses because it’s known that if people have a good attitude and feel happy and so on, that they’re going to be less likely to get ill. What you do in terms of exercise and socialising, spending time with friends and things of that kind is a proactive contribution to health.”

As part of the programme, instructors and volunteers also took part in a mental health first aid course, as many had not previously worked with people experiencing mental health challenges.

All Aboard Watersports Centre will continue to run Learn to Row courses as part of its 50+ On Water programme. Due to the success of the two boat building courses, All Aboard are seeking ongoing funding to relaunch their Rocking the Boat programme – an intergenerational boat building course.

Karen Lloyd, Active Ageing Manager at Age UK Bristol and co-director of the Active Lives HIT, said: “Our blue spaces (rivers, lakes, canals and shores) provide wonderful opportunities to be active outdoors – supporting our physical and mental wellbeing, while having fun and meeting new people along the way.”

Please share: