Sam Worrall splits her time between running a busy boatyard and championing boaters and travellers’ rights.

Characters of the Cut

Sam Worrall, Heyford Wharf by Alice Griffin

By Alice GriffinA NOMADIC soul and passionate advocate for those who choose to live a travelling life, Sam Worrall first found herself living on the water back in 2012. “I have lived off-grid for about 20 years. I used to live in a little converted bus but it was getting difficult to find places to stay,” she told me. So when a friend offered Sam the opportunity to live on his boat on the Kennet & Avon, she jumped at the chance. “I met lots of boaters and really loved being there on the water, so in 2014 I decided to sell my bus and get a boat of my own.”

Sam Worrall splits her time between running a busy boatyard and championing boaters and travellers’ rights.
Sam Worrall splits her time between running a busy boatyard and championing boaters and travellers’ rights.

Despite a short gap of two years, Sam has lived on the water ever since and now resides aboard a 57ft semi-trad, Shield Maiden, built in 1990.You would think that single-handedly continuously cruising, alongside a part-time job working for a gypsy and traveller (boater and showpeople’s) advocacy charity would be enough to keep Sam busy. But in 2020 when the season finally got going she found herself unable to resist an extra work opportunity that came her way.

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The wharf offers all the usual boatyard services.
The wharf offers all the usual boatyard services.

Heyford Wharf on the Oxford Canal runs a hire fleet as well as offering all the usual boatyard services: blacking, fabrication, welding, engine servicing and general repairs, along with a big paint shed/dry dock. Add to this a small shop, soft furnishings workshop The Flower Boat and bistro Kizzies, and it’s certainly a buzzing place to be! “Initially I was working in the office and shop two days a week and doing hire fleet turnarounds and show outs.

Narrowboats in the dock.
Narrowboats in the dock.

Then in spring last year I asked my boss if I could take over the running of the working side of the yard, which had not been proactively run for a few years. He said yes!” This means that since July 2021 Sam has been taking all the bookings for private work, doing all the publicity, marketing, ordering of materials and customer liaison as well as pricing up jobs and invoicing. “I have a full-time welder/fabricator working for me, as well as a boat painter and part-time engineer.”

The boatyard at Heyford Wharf on the Oxford Canal.
The boatyard at Heyford Wharf on the Oxford Canal.

As well as office work though, Sam is certainly not afraid to get her own hands dirty. “If we are busy I help with the blacking and in winter I close for private work and we get the Oxfordshire Narrowboats hire fleet in to paint and work on.” Having learnt how to paint boats this past winter herself, Sam has lots to keep her busy and certainly enjoys the challenge that running a boatyard brings. “I would encourage more women to explore the option of boatyard work. Everyone here has been really supportive in helping me get started. It’s never dull either.”

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Charity work

Despite her growing role within the boatyard, Sam is still passionate about continuing to work on behalf of the travelling community and since 2015 has been working for gypsy and traveller advocacy charities Julian House, Friends Families and Travellers, and Gypsies and Travellers Wales. Sam’s work for these organisations is all about addressing discrimination and the barriers that prevent people from accessing health and social services. “It’s incredibly difficult being nomadic in this day and age and it’s getting worse too with the new laws around trespass coming in. But we are all entitled to healthcare and nobody should have to battle to get it just because they choose not to live in a house!”

As boaters, many of us struggle due to not having an address so knowing we have people like Sam on our side is refreshing. “Every local authority that has canals running through it should include boaters as part of any gypsy and traveller outreach service it runs,” Sam believes, so her work in educating about our existence is time well spent.This spring and summer you will find Sam on hand at the boatyard or out and about on the towpath.

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“I tend to stay on my mooring at the boatyard for most of the winter apart from the odd little move, but in summer I go off cruising again; usually as far as Cropredy so I can commute to work with not too much bother. I love living in nature, being off-grid, semi-nomadic and having the freedom to up sticks and move whenever I want. All while living on the amazing industrial heritage that the canals are.”

#towpathtalk #canals #canalsandrivers #narrowboat #rivers #waterways #lifeonthecut #boating #boats #charactersofthecut

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