MP for South West Bedfordshire – Andrew Selous – met with a church leader providing support to boat dwellers across the country as part of the Waterways Chaplaincy on Friday.
He also visited Dunstable corps, which provides debt advice to dozens of people to help them get out of debt, as well as visiting The Salvation Army’s Eaton Bray corps.
Mr Selous met with Captain Jenny Dibsdall, corps officer at Eaton Bray, who has spent three and a half years working as a chaplain on the waterways, building an ecumenical team of chaplains. Captain Dibsdall will retire from her role as The Salvation Army's waterways chaplain on Tuesday. Salvation Army members will continue to be involved in the chaplaincy work across the country and, as an ecumenical initiative, a member of St Dunstan’s Church, Hunsdon, Lorraine Newman, will now head up the Waterways Chaplaincy. Lorraine leads the team of chaplains on the rivers Lea and Stort.
When the floods were at their worst this winter the rivers were running so quickly that it was too dangerous for boats to move. That left boat owners feeling vulnerable.
“Many people who live in boats spend a lot of their time in isolation,” said Captain Dibsdall.
“At night, when they’re shut up on the boat, and they are on their own, it can be a very lonely place.”
It is at these times that Jenny is keen for people to know that the team of chaplains is available to support and help.
As well as taking a walk on the waterways Mr Selous visited Eaton Bray corps and Dunstable corps. Eaton Bray corps is run by Captain Dibsdall and provides a range of support for local people – from parents and toddler groups, to a ladies’ fellowship group, and a fortnightly coffee morning. Mr Selous met with local residents and staff to discuss some of the issues they and people living on the waterways face.
He also visited Dunstable corps which sees about 1,400 people through its doors each week. The corps runs clubs for children, parents and toddlers, homeless people, teenage parents and older people. It offers a debt advice service as well as a weekly coffee morning, and a weekly soup kitchen where people can have a shower, receive clothing, shoes, watch TV or obtain a new sleeping bag as well as have a nutritious hot meal.
The Salvation Army’s debt advice service in Dunstable started in 2007 and has since helped many people by providing free, confidential advice, to get their lives back on track.
Major Carol Evans, corps officer in Dunstable, said: “All of this is in response to our own desire to love and serve. The Salvation Army’s approach is to love God with all your heart and then to love your neighbour and other people. We are a church but this centre was set up to be a means of reaching out to the people in our community. Everyone is accepted and made welcome.”
Mr Selous MP said: “It has been great to be able to see first-hand the amazing work The Salvation Army is doing for people in this part of the world. It’s clear they look to help people who are vulnerable or in need and offer compassionate support and a listening ear whatever their circumstances and in all sorts of different ways.”