ABC Leisure Group Limited has been building and operating a hire fleet and providing full marina services to canal users for over 45 years, with a thorough experience of everything to do with narrowboats and boating holidays.
Alvechurch Boat Centres was acquired by the current owners in 1993 when it had just three locations Alvechurch, Gayton and Anderton. Since then we have grown from the original 3 bases to 16 locations for hiring canal boats which provides access to most of the canal network in England, Scotland and Wales.
In 2005, Viking Afloat with its four locations at Worcester, Whitchurch, Rugby and Gailey became part of our operation. In 2006 we acquired Red Line Boats at Goytre Wharf in the Brecon Beacons National Park.
We have continued to operate the hire fleets from 16 start locations under their original brands to ensure they maintain their individual uniqueness and culture. For our customers convenience, information about all the hire boats and locations are contained all in one place within our ABC Boat Hire brochure.
In recent years we have also added three properties to our holiday hire offerings based at Goytre, Blackwater and Wrenbury. Visit abcholidaycottages.co.uk for more information.
ABC Leisure Group owns and operates 10 marinas and boatyards throughout the UK Inland Waterway system providing services for both our own hire fleets, passing boaters and privately owned boats. Most of our locations have either dry docks or cranes and a gas safe engineer so there is no job too large or small. In addition to a range of chandlery and boat parts at all these locations, we have a large well stocked chandlers at Hilperton Marina and an online chandlery. ABC Web Chandler can supply a variety of parts and accessories for boaters and boating direct to your door. We also have a brokerage or boat sales operation selling second-hand boats.
With our diverse portfolio of canal related business it was decided in 2007 to rename the parent company ABC Leisure Group under which all the brands and activities would operate.
In 2008 ABC Boat Management was launched to look after and be the main point of contact for around 100 boats that we manage or operate on behalf of other individuals and companies. ABC Boat Management uses its economies of scale to acquire most of the services required from ABC Leisure Group marinas at a discounted rates making it a very cost effective management option.
ABC Leisure group can do almost everything for canal boats and is committed to continue growing what it can offer the Inland Waterways boater.
Helping our customers escape to a slower pace of life on or near our inland waterways.
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ABC Boat Hire
ABC Boat Hire
The canals and rivers of England , Scotland and Wales stretch for over 2000 miles through some of the finest countryside imaginable. At ABC Boat Hire we have 16 start locations throughout the waterway network, from Falkirk in Scotland to Hilpertonin Wiltshire, offering the widest choice of self-drive boat hire and narrowboat holidays.
ABC Boat Management manage more than 100 boats for business and individuals including Diamond Resorts, Former Challenger syndicates, Private Boat Shares, Canaltime, Canalboat Club, The Royal Air Force, The Royal Navy, The Bank of England and many more.
Sustaining The Environment
Not only are ABC Boat Hire holidays one of the most relaxing and rewarding holidays around, they are also one of the ‘greenest’. Starting the moment customers board their floating home, a holiday cruising through some of the country’s most breathtaking scenery, working the locks or sitting back with a glass of wine won’t ‘cost’ the earth.
In fact an ABC Boat Hire holiday is estimated to be some 20* times better for the planet than spending two hours flying for a holiday overseas. We offer our customers the opportunity to offset the environmental impact of their holiday by donating to The Canal and River Trust Green Fund.
The Canal and River Trustis a registered charity which cares for 2000 miles of waterways in England and Wales. We suggest £5.00 per holiday which our customers can indicate on their booking form and all of which goes directly to “The Canal and River Trust Green Fund”
In addition if customers select Gift Aid when making their donation it will be worth even more. For every pound given to the Waterways Trust they receive an extra 28 pence from the Inland Revenue.
Following the launch of our greener holidays campaign in 2008 we are pleased to report on some of the projects which have benefited from donations from customers and ourselves to “The Waterways Trust Green Fund”.
A new section of traffic-free walking and cycling path has been constructed by Powys Council and Sustrans between Newtown, Llanllwchaiarn and Aberbechan on the Montgomery Canal. The 1.5km trail, which received a grant from the Green Fund, is part of the Montgomery Canal Walking and Cycling Project and forms part of Route 81 of the National Cycle Network.
The new stretch allows people to travel more easily and safely between local communities. It also allows better access to the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust’s Pwll Penarth wetland nature reserve by bike or on foot.
The new Hanbury Lock Towpath will extend an existing route on the Birmingham & Worcester Canal, from Hanbury Wharf into Droitwich encouraging even more people to make use of the restored canals and visit the town.
Funding has also contributed towards the opening of the Action Outdoors Centre, Falkirk. A brand new outdoor activity centre on the bank of the Union Canal, giving young people in the region the opportunity to get out and get active. The centre offers a wide range of activities both on the canal and in the surrounding area.
Donate to the Canal & River Trust.
Help protect and care for our unique canals and rivers
A narrowboat holiday on the UK canals and rivers is the perfect way to explore the beautiful countryside of England, Wales & Scotland. Enjoyment of the holiday depends upon the sustainability of the canals, the towpaths and the countryside itself.
At ABC Leisure Group we are proud to actively work to reduce our impact on the environment. We consider all aspects of our operations and are constantly reviewing our activities and trying to minimize our environmental impact throughout the organisation. Although a narrowboat holiday is a very low carbon holiday we try to ensure we improve this and our general marina activities even further.
We make a donation to the Waterways Trust Green Fund to offset the small amount of carbon created by every holiday we provide. We also provide our customers with the option of making a donation to offset the carbon from their travel to and from the holiday start location.
All our holiday brochures, documents and information are available on the ABC Boat Hire website electronically. The information booklets that are sent out with holiday confirmation are recycled (hirers are invited to return the booklets to the marinas at the end of the holiday for recycling).
Our hire boats are fitted with long life oil filters requiring only one oil change each year, reducing waste petrochemical and filter quantities. We use efficient modern diesel engines and encourage hirers to drive the boat responsibly by charging them directly for the actual fuel they use.
A plentiful supply of hot water is supplied to sinks and showers which is produced as a by-product from the cooling system of the engine. Boats are all provided with Ecover washing up liquid and our cleaners use a Diversy Leaver cleaning system. These reduce packaging waste and are completely and immediately biodegradable which has minimum effect on aquatic life and the surrounding environment.
We endeavour to recycle as much of our waste as is practically possible and constantly look for ways of improving our impact on the environment. Waste from our sites is either pre treated or sorted by the disposing companies.
Our boat building operations use as many materials as possible from recycled and sustainable sources and we try to fit low energy equipment where possible. We are able to build Eco hulls which limit wash that erodes banks and increases fuel efficiency.
The ABC Leisure Group has been granted a licence to operate hire boats from the base of Reading Marine at Aldermaston Wharf on the Kennet & Avon Canal, writes Harry Arnold.
Hire boat operators and boatbuilders Reading Marine – which had a boat on show at part of the Discover Waterways feature at the Tullett Prebon London International Boat Show – recently went into liquidation.
Edward Helps, managing director, of ABC Leisure, told us: ‘It’s business as usual for the Reading marine hire fleet, and for wharf services. We’re currently in the process of acquiring the assets of Reading Marine from the administrators and completing the outstanding work to private boats on the site.’
Although we won’t build any boats at this location we’ll continue to carry out repairs and maintenance to privately owned boats, Mr Helps added.
ABC Leisure is one of the biggest multi-based operators on the waterway network and Aldermaston Wharf will be the group’s 14th location for holiday boat hire. It already has a base at Hilperton at the western end of the Kennet & Avon Canal.
Christine Thompson was a lifelong waterway enthusiast, and in particular she was active in the Trent & Mersey Canal Society.
Before her death in April, she was the receptionist for 15 years at the ABC Leisure Group’s Anderton Marina, and made a big impact on all who met her. Staff at the marina wanted to erect a permanent memorial to their much-loved colleague, and it was chief engineer Trevor Blackhurst who suggested a bench.
An approach to British Waterways secured an old balance beam, appropriately from a lock on the Trent & Mersey Canal in the Rode Heath area. Trevor Blackhurst then cut a section from the oak beam, and carved a simple inscription.
This lasting tribute to Christine is now outside the marina reception, and with due ceremony, some of Christine’s ashes were placed in the base. Her husband Ted was very moved by the marina staff’s gesture.
“Having decided that our boat was in desperate need of a hull blacking, whilst on holiday in the area we decided to try Worcester Marina. The service that we received was so exceptional that we felt it deserved a public mention.
Every member of staff that we spoke to was friendly, approachable and professional, and couldn’t do enough for us – from the first phone call to finally paying the bill and collecting our boat. It must be the first time that we haven’t minded paying a bill!
Since it was late afternoon on a Friday when we collected the boat, we were even invited to moor in the marina to avoid the centre of Worcester. We were even provided with a free manoeuvring lesson when reversing the boat out of the dry dock – easy for many but not for a novice, especially under the watchful eyes of families collecting their hire boats for their holiday. Well done, and thank you to all of the team at Worcester Marina”
Managing Director Ed Helps talks to Keith Goss
ABC Leisure Group are now the largest hire boat operator in the UK . How many boats do you operate?
We now have 290 boats available for hire on the waterways of Britain . That’s from our four hire companies: Alvechurch Waterway Holidays, Viking Afloat, Red Line Boats and Wessex Narrowboats, as well as our Canaltime craft – based at Blackwater Marina on the Llangollen Canal , Alvecote on the Coventry Canal and Market Harborough – the management of which we took over on the 8 th September.
So in total, how many bases do you have?
Fourteen, including the Canaltime locations referred to above.
I guess that covers pretty much the whole canal system, does it? Or do you look at areas of the network and think: “I wish we had a base there?”
We have a presence in Scotland (Falkirk) and Wales (Goytre on the Mon & Brec) – or we will do once the latter is reopened again. And we’re well represented in England , from Anderton in the north to Hilperton on the Kennet & Avon in the south. Ideally though, we would like to have a base on the Leeds & Liverpool, perhaps somewhere on the eastern waterways, such as the Fens – and maybe in the London area too. But that’s all for the future.
Which are the most popular canals for hiring?
From our experience, it’s still the Llangollen, followed by the K&A and the Mon & Brec.
How did ABC Leisure come to be such a huge player in the hire boat industry? Was it planned – or did it just evolve?
We always knew we would grow the business and set out to achieve national coverage. We started out with just three bases and aimed to acquire one further base a year – an ambition which we have been able to achieve.
Can you tell me anything about ABC Leisure – does it have other interests in the holiday market?
Not really. We do own a pub at Alvechurch, a small caravan site at Whitchurch and The Moorings restaurant at Anderton, but otherwise our interests are solely within boating. ABC is a privately owned company with three shareholders, one of which is me. Some people have questioned the name ABC – but it quite simply standards for Alvechurch Boat Centres, which was our first hire company.
Is the company headquarters still based at Alvechurch?
It is now split between Alvechurch and Worcester. Accounts and administration are largely handled at Alvechurch, whilst the booking office, marketing and other staff – including myself- work from Worcester .
Do you believe that a large company such as yours is better able to withstand the fluctuations of the hire trade than a smaller, family firm?
In many respects, yes we are. But we are conscious of the need to diversify our field of activity – and not just concentrate solely on hiring. We build boats – both for our fleets and for private customers around 24 a year; we offer brokerage and sell, on average, one or two boats a week; we sell chandlery, at our marinas and online; we carry out boat maintenance and repair work; we offer helmsman training; and provide moorings at our various marinas. In addition, we manage boats too. Not just for Canaltime, but also for shared ownership syndicates, corporations and Government agencies. We look after narrowboats for, among others, the Bank of England, the RAF and the Royal Navy. The latter’s boat isn’t painted grey though – we thought it might be!
Are you still able to offer the same standard of customer service and care as the smaller companies?
We think we are. Each base operates independently from one another and our employees all pride themselves on the level of customer care that they provide.
But do you still see a place in the market for the family operator?
Yes, we can all live alongside each other in the industry. A lot of locations do not lend themselves to anything but owner management.
The hire industry has contracted over the last decade. Has it bottomed out now, or will we see even fewer hire craft on the canals in the future?
I suspect that other operators will come out of the hiring industry in the years to come. It has to be accepted that this is a capital intensive/ low margin activity and that can and does result in casualties.
How do you think the industry will survive the present financial crisis – we are allowed to say recession now – with incomes being squeezed and rising unemployment?
Whatever happens, people will still value their leisure time and will do their utmost to take a holiday each year. I am confident that sufficient numbers will still be able to afford a holiday in this country.
Your brochure says that you “offer greener holidays”. How does this work?
We launched our “Greener Holidays Campaign” in 2008. For a start we use only bio-degradable cleaning materials on all our boats, as well as other products designed to reduce waste. The one thing we couldn’t do was to get our boats to move without diesel, so we have entered into an arrangement with the Waterways Trust whereby we donate a percentage of our profits to ‘The Waterways Trust Green Fund’, to offset the impact of each boating holiday. Some of the projects initiated as a result of our donations include: the installation of a geothermal heat pump at an activity centre beside the Union Canal in Scotland ; provision of a cycleway and cycle hire along the Montgomery Canal ; construction of a length of towpath from the Worcester & Birmingham Canal to the Droitwich Canal to encourage walking and cycling. We are delighted to have been awarded a ‘Green Apple Award for Environmental Best Practice’ for our efforts.
Continuing the green theme, could growing concern about overseas holidays,, carbon footprints etc, together with the increasing cost of flying, bring a great opportunity for the hire industry to expand again?
That remains to be seen, of course, but yes that may well be the result of greater awareness of green issues, not to mention economic factors. I do believe that more and more holidays will be taken in the UK over the next few years and we are well placed to take advantage of that trend.
How do you feel about the state of the waterways in general – the standard of maintenance etc?
Well they’re not perfect, anyone can see that. And we are, of course, directly affected by the closure of the Mon & Brec Canal whilst the breach down there is repaired. But I believe – and this may not necessarily be a popular viewpoint in some circles – that British Waterways do a jolly good job, given the level of funding that they receive.
Speaking of adequate funding, is this an issue that concerns you, particularly in view of the DEFRA cuts to the budgets of British Waterways and the Environment Agency?
Absolutely. Anyone whose business is entirely dependent on the maintenance of the canal system has to be concerned. And to be brutally frank, things aren’t going to get any better in the future. The government are quite naturally more concerned at the moment with propping up Lloyds TSB than propping up a collapsed culvert on the Mon & Brec Canal .
If you possessed a crystal ball, how do you think things will look in, say, 50 years’ time? Will we have an immaculately maintained canal system, with the Cotswold, Montgomery and Wilts & Berks canals all fully restored – and ABC Leisure with hire bases on all of them?
My guess is that the canals will look much as they do now – I certainly hope that is the case. And yes, I believe that restoration will continue and that the waterways you mentioned will be restored. But I think such work will be increasingly carried out by voluntary groups and trusts without support from statutory bodies like British Waterways or local authorities. The volunteers may seem to make slow progress, but they always get there in the end. And I would certainly hope that we shall have bases on those canals you mentioned.
Finally, how did Edward Helps get to be managing director of the nation’s largest boat hire company? Have you always been a boating enthusiast?
No. When I lived in London , which is where I come from, I had little knowledge of or interest in waterways. For many years I worked in the motor trade and eventually moved to take up a new position in Birmingham . Soon after I was asked to join Alvechurch Boat Centres and it all took off from there. By coincidence, my Midlands home overlooked the Droitwich Junction Canal , which at that time was little more than a stagnant ditch. Little did I think then that I would end up as a trustee of the Droitwich Canals Trust. And I’m very much looking forward to the completion of the Droitwich Canals project in 2010.
So how do you spend your holidays – boating round the Avon Ring… or chilling out in the Seychelles ?
Neither really. Last year, for example, I motorcycled through India to raise money for the Rainbow Trust and the World Wildlife Fund. It was a fantastic trip, starting in Mumbei and ending up in the far south of the country in Kerala, where I enjoyed exploring the fascinating network of canals there.
So could that be the location of the next ABC base then?
That’s a nice idea, but perhaps we’ll go for the Leeds & Liverpool first.
UK Boat Hire (Now ABC) is on track to represent the UK in the European Business Awards for the Environment.
The canal boat hire company was notified in September that it is among the major winners in the Green Apple Environment Awards. The awards are now in the fifteenth year and attracted more than 500 nominations this year.
UK Boat Hire was selected for initiating the “Green Fund” in association with The Waterways Trust and British Waterways. Designed to compensate for the impact of their customers’ holidays on the environment, a percentage of profits from each holiday booked goes into “The Waterways Trust Green Fund”. The Green Fund is used by the Trust to invest in low carbon technologies and other waterway environmental projects such as creating new habitats.
UK Boat Hire will be presented with their Green Apple Award at the House of Commons later this year. Top winners will then have the chance to represent their country in the Brussels event.
A narrow boat hire company in Worcester has chosen a novel way to have its orders of coal delivered. Instead of having the fuel transported by van, Viking Afloat at Lowesmoor Wharf now receives its consignment by boat.
Marina Manager Darren Mather said “we are having 100 bags of coal, each weighing 25kg, delivered by boat so we can be more environmentally friendly. It does cost a fraction more to do it this way, but the end price for the consumer will still be the same.” The coal is sold on to passing narrow boat owners who use it for heating their floating homes.
The Waterways Trust has joined with UK Boat Hire to try to reduce the carbon footprint of the day-to-day operation of our waterways.
The Trust has established the Green Fund specifically to invest in low carbon technologies and other environmental projects to help mitigate the carbon emissions and environmental impact of managing the waterways.
“From ecological developments to water treatment and renewable energy sources, the Green Fund means the Trust, with British Waterways and other partners, will be able to develop a wide range of projects to benefit the environment of our canals”
Roger Hanbury, Chief Executive of the Waterways Trust, said: “UK Boat Hire will be donating a percentage of the profits from each holiday booked with them to the fund. Holidaymakers are also being invitied to offset the impact of their travel to and from their boat, by makinga voluntar contribution to the fund.”
A THREE-DAY fishing expedition to clean up the Worcester & Birmingham canal netted 22 rusting bicycles, two motor cycles, a shopping trolley and half a computer among a mountain of other rubbish.
It took more than three days to fish out the massive catch of junk from the waters of Lowesmoor Wharf marina. The clear-up was carried out by staff from narrowboat hire company Viking Afloat following comments from their customers who had spotted a bike being thrown off the marina bridge. Marina manager Darren Mather , who only took up the post three weeks ago, took immediate action to retrieve the bike, but was surprised with what else he found.“We went down in a boat to hook the bike out but then we discovered all this other stuff with it. There were 22 bikes in total, a shopping trolley, eight shopping baskets, five council signs, three scooters, two motorbikes and half a computer. The opening of the marina has no more than 12ft of water so any obstruction could cause us major problems. I definitely didn’t expect to find all this.”
It is unknown how long the items had been submerged, in the canal but one of the motorbikes had been reported missing to police back in 1995. And in another surprise, some of the rusting hulks has freshwater mussels living on them. A fact that has surprised some observers who thought that they could not survive in the canal conditions. Between March and April this year, British Waterways carried out a Towpath Tidy campaign in the West Midlands and collected a staggering 109 tonnes of rubbish from canals and towpaths.
Waterways spokeswoman Sally-Ann Parton said it was astonishing what lurks under the surface. “We have found clothing and even locked safes with the backs blown off them. It would be impossible for us to search the entire system so what normally happens is someone will bump into something, contact us and we have a customer service team which removes it. The amount of rubbish is an issue. In filtered areas, which Lowesmoor is, it is quite difficult to see these items because the silt covers it. Unless you know the exact location of something it can be like looking for a needle in a haystack.”
Mr Mather said despite the big problem with waste and the amount of toxic silt in the canal, the waterways are becoming more popular. “We’ve taken a huge number of bookings for this summer. And although all of this debris would suggest there is little life down there, fish are thriving.”
A police spokesman said one of the motorbikes found had been reported missing back in 1999, and at the time it was valued at £1,200. He said “After 10 years in the water it is going to be difficult to identify the items. However, we are interested to find out where they have all come from.”