Reedley Boat Hire: The budding Lancashire business riding the staycation wave on the UK's longest canal
It's July 2020, and David and Sally Hartley, along with friends Gerry and Caroline Gill, are taking a trip along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal on their boats.
Mooring at Reedley Marina, they realised the marina was the only one they could think of without a day-boat hiring service and so decided to rectify that situation by buying a 'tatty and battered' 32-foot boat which they named Kingfisher with the view of hiring it out to day-trippers.
They got to work on the necessary renovations but, unfortunately, Sally's mother then died of Covid-19 before she was herself diagnosed with breast cancer, understandably delaying matters. As the project neared completion, however, they learned that the then-operator of the holiday boat-hire service at Reedley Marina was ceasing operations.
That's when things got interesting.
"When this opportunity arose, rather than just sit and vegetate in retirement, I thought we should give it a go," explains David Hartley, with the couples going on to buy two more boats and starting Reedley Boat Hire. "I've been a yachtsman for years having started sailing as a teenager and been part of racing crews, so boats have been part of our lives for a long time.
"Our holidays have always been things like bareboat charters where you hire a boat like you hire a car," adds David, who is a former chartered building surveyor and who lives with Sally on a widebeam boat on the marina. "We bought a narrowboat about five years ago and got into cruising the canals, eventually ending up at Reedley Marina and fell in love with the place.
"When we realised Reedley Marina was the only marina without a day-boat service, we decided to have a dabble," he continues. "It's a cracking area, so that's how it all started."
Updating the boats entirely with new bedding, equipment, and WiFi (they also provide a complimentary pack of eggs from local Reedley hens), the quartet also had Sally and David's daughter build a website for them from her home in Singapore. Everything was finally coming together, the manifestation of what had become a year-long dream made reality.
Just as the government's Covid restrictions were beginning to be eased somewhat in mid-April of this year, their very first hire came through the night before they were due to finish upgrading and renovating their boats. David, now a director of the fledgling company, calls the timing 'perfect'.
The business has since taken off and is fully-booked for most of the next few months and even has bookings into next year. Having not been eligible for Covid grants or government support, they have instead received tremendous assistance and encouragement from a number of small local businesses, Reedley Marina itself, and the Canal and Rivers Trust.
"There's a financial risk but, rather than just sit and do nothing, we decided to do something we love," says David. "There's a great camaraderie on the canals and everybody looks after each other because we're all bonded by a love for boating. As an activity, you don't need a license or any experience - you can just hop on and enjoy a stress-free time."
Keen to open up the longest canal in Britain built as a single waterway to a new audience, Reedley Boat Hire hosted an official launch event in mid-July at which the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Burnley, as well as Anthony Higginbotham MP, were in attendance.
"We make sure people are comfortable with their competence to operate the boat and then leave them too it to pootle along at 4mph and really embrace the slower pace of life," David explains. "That's the attraction: it's a real antidote to the stress and speed of modern-day living.
"You come back a different person," he adds.