Kirk on the Canal’s mission flows through the heart of its unique landscape

Polwarth Parish Church sits on the banks of the Union Canal in Edinburgh and is warmly known as the Kirk on the Canal.

The church has long been the community centre for Polwarth; but, over the past decade, has been transforming its spaces and pursuing its mission to become a place of wellbeing for all. Making the most of its unique location, the church is now taking to the waters of the canal itself.

Allchurches Trust has given a grant to Polwarth Parish Church towards the purchase and renovation of a previously loved narrowboat, which will become a focus for youth engagement in partnership with the Edinburgh social innovation charity, People Know How.

The joint project, All Aboard: Navigating Life Together, will develop personal and practical skills focused on the narrowboat itself and the natural and cultural heritage of the Union Canal and its conservation.

Having access to the canal will enhance People Know How’s Positive Transitions Service that builds self-esteem, social skills, stronger school relationships and increased self-confidence for young people across Edinburgh, particularly those transitioning into secondary school experiencing complex family situations in urban or difficult environments.

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Reverend Jack Holt of Polwarth Parish Church said: “The aim was to have a canal boat that would allow Kirk on the Canal to engage with its community in new ways, but also to share and protect the natural and cultural history and significance of the 200-year-old Union Canal.

“The All Aboard project is built on a model of gathering, sharing, doing and celebrating activities and opportunities that encourage all generations to join together to share traditional skills and develop new ones; all while engaging with art, nature and culture.”

Allchurches’ Grants Officer, Peter Mojsa, said: “The Kirk on the Canal is an amazing place of peace, harmony and positivity. Complementing its Canal Gardens, Canal Shed, Polwarth Pontoon and the beautiful labyrinth in the church itself, the purchase and refurbishment of a canal boat for spiritual, educational and personal development pursuits will enhance this special church as a place of wellbeing, community cohesion and spiritual nourishment.”

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Rev’d Holt continued: “While we were consulting about what difference a canal boat could make to our community, partners and mission, we borrowed a vessel to take some test trips and spend time talking with our guests and participants.

“Groups of secondary students from across Edinburgh came aboard for floating science workshops (most of them had never been on a boat before - and none of them had been in a church). We hosted our Polwarth pop-up café on board and we took the Canal Shedders out for a boat trip. Then we welcomed all to a congregational trip after a Sunday morning service.

“It was all very positive and filled us with great confidence and hope that our narrowboat will be enormously beneficial towards the Kirk on the Canal being able to offer wholeness and wellbeing to all; while protecting and celebrating the beautiful 200 year old Union Canal, whose story we are now also very much a part of.”

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