the bruce trust
creating opportunities for disabled, disadvantaged and elderly people
The Bruce Trust was created in 1988 by Louise and David Bruce, following the sale of Bruce's Brewery and the Firkin Pubs in London. Being keen to plough back some of the proceeds into a project which would benefit the community, they became intrigued with the possibility of offering to disabled, disadvantaged and elderly people the opportunity to enjoy self-steer, self-catering holidays, cruising on the Kennet and Avon Canal either eastward towards Newbury and Reading or westward to Devizes and down the Caen Hill Flight on to Bath.
Having carried out considerable research, Louise and David invested over £80,000 into building The Rebecca. This specially-designed, purpose-built, wide-beam canal boat offered the highest quality accommodation and the ultimate flexibility for up to 12 people.
Due to the extraordinary market demand for The Rebecca during her first two seasons, a successful appeal was launched in January 1991 to fund the development of a second boat, enabling The Hannah to be built, also sleeping up to 12 people. In September 1993, the Trust purchased their third boat, The Rachel, an existing wide-beam boat, purpose-built for disabled people.
The fourth boat, The Diana, named in memory of the late Princess of Wales, joined the fleet in 1998. This too is a purpose-built, wide-beam boat that accommodates up to 10 people and provides the latest facilities for helping people with special needs.
At the end of the 2008 season, after twenty years of existence, the Trust had provided holidays for over 10,000 disabled people and their carers.
It then realised it needed to replace The Rachel as she had reached the end of her serviceable life. She was replaced in August 2009 by a new, specially-designed, purpose-built 6-berth boat (also called The Rachel), ideally suited for a family group with a disabled member or a small group from a care-in-the-community residential organisation. The £150,000 capital cost was fundraised between January 2008 and April 2009 - no mean achievement during the deepest recession since the 1930s.
In September 2009, The Rachel was officially launched by David Bruce’s 91-year-old mother, Rachel, and blessed by Revd. Mike Shaw, who had blessed all of the Trust’s fleet.
In 2011, it was decided that The Rebecca, the oldest boat and first of all the designs, would benefit from some upgrades and improvements. Fundraising for this project commenced and £120,000 was raised for a full refurbishment and a new, more accessible layout. The work was completed in 2013 and The Rebecca was relaunched as a 10-berth boat including a scissor-action hospital bed, adjacent to a 6’ x 3’ panoramic window.
All the boats were designed to give wheelchair users the opportunity to steer by using the tiller. However, both Hannah and Rachel were fitted with a remote steering device that enables someone with less upper body mobility to steer from their wheelchair, using a joystick.
In 2012, the Trust sent The Diana on an 82-mile canal and river journey to provide accommodation near the Olympic Stadium for disabled visitors from throughout the UK. During the voyage, various Rotary Clubs along the Kennet and Avon Canal crewed the boat and provided day trips to local groups of people with special needs.
Bruce Trust volunteers manned her throughout the Games and a wide range of charities for disabled people were invited to apply for low cost accommodation and entry tickets to the Paralympics. The boat was moored only a few minutes’ wheelchair ride away from the main Olympic Stadium.
About four years ago, after 25 successful years, the Bruce family decided that the project had become too wieldy to run by themselves, so liaised with The Kennet and Avon Canal Trust, who agreed to take on the boats, the volunteers and the administration, and they have been doing so very successfully ever since. The Bruce Trust is continuing with its current board of Trustees and Rebecca Bruce remains as Director but its focus for the future will be more on fundraising for the specific benefit of people with special needs to enjoy these four very special boats.
During 2020, families were able to hire the boats for a week’s Covid-secure trip and enjoy the serenity of the Kennet and Avon. The Canal Trust has now been granted finance to develop their first day-long public Discovery Trips, which will take place from April 2021. These will give an opportunity for disabled passengers to steer the boat and work the locks, supervised by expert voluntary skippers and crews. These trips will include a visit to Crofton Pumping Station and an electric buggy will take disabled passengers up the steep incline to the station. During 2021, the Trust also plans to increase learning opportunities for young people.
At the same time, they will be starting free trips for carers, which will be funded by sponsors who wish to say ‘thank you’ for all that carers have done during the pandemic. Each trip will include refreshments and lunch. Anyone who has been caring for a disabled person during the pandemic is urged to sign up for a relaxing day on the canal.
The Wiltshire Community Foundation has awarded a grant to explore how the Trust can best upgrade the Great Bedwyn wharf to include modern, accessible buildings and toilets and they hope to raise the necessary funds over the next few years to carry out this project.
Descriptions of Rebecca, Hannah, Diana and Rachel can be found on the Bruce Trust website
If you would like to discuss which boat would be most appropriate for your group, please contact Jen by email or on 01380 721279. Charity no. 800402