Floating Market helping Birmingham’s homeless population

I’m shamelessly sharing other peoples words once again – this time is for a far worthier cause than helping people cure their hangovers!

You’ll be aware, if you’re a regular reader, that currently Barry is being The Home Brew Boat sales person, and I’m being a Calendar Girl in both Tamworth (my winter job), and Merry Hill (Barry’s winter job!). So six days out the nine of the RCTA Christmas Floating Market I’m otherwise engaged persuading people to part with more of their hard-earned cash in the build up to the commercialised madness that disguises itself as Christmas here in the Western World.

It grieves me to the core watching so many people spending money on ‘stuff’, because they need “Just one more stocking filler”; but we do have to make a bit of a living – like most of us (though I do question often how much people REALLY need, if they stopped spending it needlessly, but that’s another story …).

Anyway, a rather amazing fellow trader is also an extremely eloquent writer. In fact she is a published author. And quite famous in these parts.

She also regularly posts on Facebook as ‘Aunty Wainwright’. Anyone reading who relates to narrow boating, and especially trading, could not help but be amused by her anecdotes, wisdom and wit.

This past week she has excelled herself.

If you’ve visited Birmingham recently, you can’t have missed the German Market, the Big Wheel, the Craft Market; the shops full of glittery sparkly ‘stuff’ – and amongst all this I trust you’ve taken in the sight of a staggering mass of homeless people sitting on pavements in their sleeping bags. Can you even comprehend what must be going through their minds watching people marching around relentlessly trying to spend their money on more things they don’t need all in the name of ‘Christmas’?

It is shameful.

Not as much as what’s occurring in other parts of the world, admittedly, but this is on our doorstep.

Without further ado, and I do have the author’s permission to post, you’ll find below Aunty Wainwright’s wise words and contemplations about the Floating Market, and more importantly the Floating Traders quest to make a difference whilst we’re here.

Please read to the end – there’s more! You can help too …

Monday 5th December – a call to action

As many of you would have heard, a rough sleeper died in Birmingham last week.

This is distressing – well, in my opinion it is outrageous that in one of the richest countries in the world people are not only homeless, but dying in doorways.

I would like to put up a ‘charity’ table at the market, where we could leave ‘car boot-y’ type things and ask for donations for a local homeless charity.

Would anybody object to this? And has anybody any suggestions as to which charity we should give the money we raise?”

The decision was duly made to raise money to ‘Sifa Fireside‘, based in Digbeth in Birmingham.

Saturday 10th December – day 1 of the Floating Market

Hello, my dears, it’s Auntie Wainwright here, sending greetings from the Birmingham Christmas Floating Market, where it is Raining. I haven’t yet found anybody to blame for this, but I shall. I’m ‘logged in’ (I am learning these technical terms) under the name of My Assistant, because she has locked the office door so I can’t find the passwords, which she says I shouldn’t be writing down anyway. What nonsense! Everything has to be written down, otherwise there can be Arguments, which can lead to Breakages, and we don’t want that. 

There are quite a lot of us here, and some of us went to the Roving Canal Traders Association Annual General Meeting yesterday, which was a great success. (Try telling Sandra not to write things down, and see where she tells you to put The Minutes.) I got my own way with my veto of the term ‘Chairperson’, I wasn’t volunteered to do anything, and somebody bought me a drink, so I shall go to the next one, too.

Luckily, we are moored next to Dabchick, and Hazel and Baz are experimenting with different flavoured coffees. Gill Barker Wood and I have been designated Guinea Pigs, to which I have no objection, since the experiments are taking the form of free mugs of coffee. Mine is a Whisky Latte, and I am assured it is non-alcoholic. I find this rather hard to believe, because it is certainly making me happier. So, it has the Wainwright Warrant, (do you know, my dears, I found it rather difficult to pronounce those two words, so I am even less inclined to believe the non-alcoholic rumour) and I may, if asked nicely, give my opinion on the Brandy Latte later.

Then we have Ilia Price with her glasswork, and she has kindly donated a lovely vase to the table we have set up to raise money for homeless people, of whom there are rather too many in Birmingham. (Is that grammatical? I’m not sure. I’d better have a little more coffee.) Crafts from Morgana is just down the towpath, hand-knitted woollies ready for winter, and pretty jewellery, and The Sweetie Boat (self-explanatory, huge range of nice things), and Sunbeam with Morgan and Sue selling lovely things (all modern, so no competition for The Black Cat I’m pleased to say, or I might not have mentioned them at all, let alone in complimentary terms) Morgan’s cards are lovely, and Sue’s wood-working skills are becoming legendary. Lois Jane, the Pen Maker’s boat, beginning to take serious repeat orders now, which suggests they’re worth having. (I have one myself, and I don’t lend it to Anybody At All.) Toastie, of course, with his toasted sandwiches, which we never can resist despite the fact that they are probably a hundred calories a sniff. Toastie’s offered hot food to homeless people, and everybody else has either bought something off the table or put something on it for others to buy. Boaters tend to be nice like that.

On the other side of the canal Dave has his leather work, for which he is famous, and there is Are and Are, Barry and Sandra’s Home Brew enterprise, helping everybody to stay cheerful at half the price of supermarket plonk and ten times the flavour. (They’ve branched out into cheese and yoghurt-making now, empire building I see.) Saruman, another Floating Trader, dispenses legal advice and nice crafts, I including Happy House Tea Light items, which are delightful (again, all modern, no competition, there is Only One Boat with Genuine Collectable Items and you know which one, and she’s moored on the NIA side up by Sheepcote Street Bridge). Julie Tonkin and Phil Stone have Julie’s canalware, all hand painted, and Julie is quite well-known now. Ask for her autograph. Kailey-Jane and Joshua Firmin are running their excellent hot drinks enterprise, and this year there’ll be mince pies and other nice eatables, too. Then we have Mister David, with David and Brenda selling Brenda’s lovely handmade greeting cards, pretty little boxes, and stocking fillers..

So there we are, all moored up tight and tidy and being nice to everybody, with lights and Christmas decorations all over the place, so come over and see us. We’ll be expecting you.”


RCTA Christmas Floating Market in full swing 10th December – picture taken by one of the talented floating traders, Morgan Jayne

Sunday 11th December – funds for feeding many raised

“Good evening, my dears, Auntie Wainwright here, and I thought you would like to know we have raised £127.88 for Sifa, our local charity for homeless people, over the weekend, and we still have a week to go.

(Oh, and a German gift token, but we have agreed that this was probably a mistake rather than Deliberate Fraud.)

This is a great deal more than I made, I might point out. Where the Sifa table was concerned, I asked people to decide for themselves what the goods were worth, but to be generous, please. I saw somebody stuffing paper money into the little box in payment for a couple of empty ring boxes, so I tried the same thing on my Floating Emporium. Those were very nice Christmas baubles, only slightly scratched and almost certainly Genuine Vintage. They were certainly worth more than 15p in coppers, a drachma and an out of date laundry token. So I went back to my old methods, and shall not be making that mistake again.

As Mrs Barker Wood has pointed out, if we calculate that a good hot meal costs about two pounds, sixty three people will be well fed, and so will somebody with a rather smaller than average appetite.”

Monday 12th December – a rather damp day

“Hello, my dears, Auntie Wainwright here, and rather glad to be Inside the Floating Emporium, rather than standing out in the cold drizzle.

Today we have taken £21.10 for Sifa Fireside, which is a bit of a drop from the weekend, but is, nevertheless, a lot better than a slap across the mouth with a wet herring as my mother used to say when she felt I had been ungrateful. 

Most people have been very nice. One or two have not, so, for future reference, if you really do have to explain to me that homeless people are sleeping rough from choice, and that they are all druggies anyway, please save your time and my temper and go away before I am forced to explain the error of your opinions yet again. I have better things to do with my time, even if that better thing is playing Patience with an incomplete pack of cards.

I went into town to pay the weekend takings into the bank, but there don’t seem to be many proper banks around now, just large glass and concrete towers that say they are banks but, when you go in with a plastic box of coins and notes, somebody in a smart suit smiles down on you condescendingly and says this bank doesn’t deal in cash. I am going to look up the number of the Trading Standards people and mention Trades Descriptions and see if I can cause a bit of muddle and bother. At last I did find a bank that knew what to do with Real Money, but the computer said NO, and so I had to pay it into my assistant’s bank account and then do an instant transfer. It’s just as well she’d left her debit card on the desk, otherwise I would have been in difficulties. 

Anyway, by now the money will be in Sifa Fireside’s account, where it will be doing a bit of good.

Have a nice evening, my dears. I’ll talk to you again tomorrow.”

Tuesday 13th December – coarse weather continues, kindness abounds

“Auntie Wainwright here, my dears, and I shall not tell you what my two assistants said about the weather here at the Floating Market today, because it was Coarse.

The forecast for tomorrow is rather better.

The Sifa Fireside table took £32.94 today, and sold approximately £20.00 worth of goods, which suggests people have been kind. Nobody was unwise enough to tell me that They Sleep Rough from Choice, possibly because of the weather. Several, including a few carrying sleeping bags, asked me to pass on thanks for what we are doing. 

Please excuse a rather short post this evening. I have to admit to being tired, and, as my assistants have just pointed out, it is Wine O’Clock.

Good night, my dears. Have a pleasant evening.”

Wednesday 14th December – not such a great day all round

“Auntie Wainwright has retired to bed with a headache, brought on by sheer bad temper, in my opinion. It has not been a great day for trading, but most of us have had that experience, and blaming Donald Trump for slow sales on the canals in Birmingham is taking it a bit far. 

(The Sifa table took £9.31, and an Irish penny, which isn’t fabulous, but it could have been worse.)

Don’t blame me, either. I was tearing around the West Midlands (or a bit of it) on buses, trains, and Large Car collecting batteries, the starter battery on The Black Cat having Passed Away Peacefully, Surrounded by Family and Friends, after a Short Flat Illness Bravely Borne.

Many thanks to Josh Firmin for getting the engine started with generator, gas bottle, jump leads and a Small Miracle. Boaters are nice to each other, especially during a rotten day’s trading. Lovely sunshine, quite warm if you were standing in the sun, perhaps they thought their wallets would get sunburn.

Tomorrow is another day, and we are off in the evening for a meal out together, so I hope the old bag’s temper recovers in the meantime. Otherwise I’ll just lock her in the boat.

Cheers, darlings.”

Thursday 14th December – much improvement for the sifa table

“Auntie Wainwright here, my dears, feeling extremely jealous of our Sifa Fireside table, which took £67.40 today, and sold about two pounds’ worth of goods. We’ve had visitors from as near as just over the canal, and from as far as Brisbane. 

We’ve also had people promising to find warm clothes and drop them in to the various places that can best hand them on to those who need them.

Something that does not appear to have reached the local press is that another man died in the night a couple of days ago, a Polish lad who only had a lightweight sleeping bag, and it wasn’t enough. My assistant was told this by one of our local rough sleepers, who has just received a court order to Move On because his little pop-up two man tent, that he shares with his sister, who was beaten up by her partner and so ran away, has been declared an Eyesore. This order was delivered by four policemen. Nice to know they’re keeping busy.

Anyway, my dears, the Floating Market will continue until Sunday, and, if you keep your ears wide open, you may hear My Assistant on BBC local radio on Saturday morning, along with her friend Sandra Walsh, extolling the many excellent features of the market, and trying very hard not to forget anybody. 

We are going out to dinner tonight. We intend to have a good time. 

Have a nice evening!”

Friday 15th December – lots of interesting visitors

Good evening, my dears, it’s Auntie Wainwright here to tell you we took £68.96 on the Sifa Fireside table today. People have been kind and generous, and we have also had some lovely donations. Narrowboat Sparks, for example, has given us lots of hats and gloves and scarves, which we are selling, but which we will also give to homeless people should they ask. Collectors plates, Coalport no less, and Christmas rosettes, and pens and pencils, so please be sure to visit us if you are coming into Birmingham, and if you did not plan to do so, then change your plans and come anyway.

Five pounds of that total was obtained by Mrs Barker Wood, who told somebody who wanted to take a photograph of the boat that this was the required donation for the privilege. I am quite pleased with her; clearly, she is making great strides where extortion is concerned. Demanding Money with Menaces needs a little more work, as she is not quick enough. Too many people are getting away before she has finished speaking, and I am really quite disappointed with the Blackmail. There was an absolute sitter of an opportunity this morning, and she even had a camera in her pocket, and still missed it.

Quite interesting people came over to talk to us about the homeless and their problems, including a prison officer, who wanted to discuss recidivism. I don’t really have a great deal to contribute to this topic, as nobody who attempts to steal from the antique store or the floating emporium ever repeats the mistake, but it was interesting to listen to him, as, unlike those who regard the homeless as simply feckless and undeserving of any sympathy, his opinions were informed by experience. At the end of our conversation, he pushed a ten pound note into the cod liver oil capsule pot that serves as a collection tin. I was really quite heartened.

Early tomorrow morning my assistant Jenny Maxwell will be appearing on local BBC radio, although ‘appearing’ is not the correct word, and it is just as well, because at that time of day she is unrelievedly scruffy. Seven o’clock, I understand, or just after. Brace yourselves with a strong cup of coffee.”

 On the radio

So there you have it. Seven days into the Floating Market here in Birmingham, sandwiched between the Sealife Centre and the National Indoor Arena (nowhere hear the big German Markets where hoards of folks can be found), and the traders are continuing to smile and hope that somehow some of the said hoards will find them and discover many hidden treasures.

Jenny and I shall be up at the crack of dawn – actually BEFORE said crack in fact – and walking across to The Mailbox and the BBC studios, ready for our breakfast slot with Radio WM. You can listen to the broadcast by around 11am by clicking this link – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04j6bb3

And there shall be more from Aunty Wainwright to report overt the weekend.

In the meantime, please consider donating to SIFA (here’s the link http://www.sifafireside.co.uk/donations/ or financial here – http://www.sifafireside.co.uk/donations/613-2/, see how easy I’ve made it for you?!), rather than spending more money on ‘stocking fillers’. I feel it makes SO much more sense, you know I’m right …

Share this post widely – maybe we can all help to make the homeless population of Birmingham feel that there is a light at the end of their tunnel – and that maybe 2017 will bring hope for a brighter future.

3 thoughts on “Floating Market helping Birmingham’s homeless population

  1. Pingback: A crazy Christmas with RCTA and Calendar Club | Adventures Aboard AreandAre

  2. Just listened to the radio interview as I sit here in 33C temps.
    Good one and well done to all.
    I walked around where you are moored in June and hope one day to catch up with you.
    Happy Christmas to you both and all the very best for the New Year.

    • Hi John! How amazing, that you can listen to a radio interview held in the centre of Birmingham, all the way from Australia! The world is a small place …
      What a shame we didn’t get to meet up while you were here in June – PLEASE let’s make it happen next time you’re on British soil.
      Have a fabulous festive season and a Happy and prosperous 2017 xx

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