LEADER funding of over £100,000 enabled a canoe hire business to survive its forced closure during the wettest spring on record and expand its offer helping to bring thousands of visitors into the local area.
Canoe2 was enjoying only its second operational summer offering canoes for hire on the River Nene in Northamptonshire when the sustained wet weather of spring 2012 led to unusually high water levels and strong flows which forced the closure of the river for 50 days.
What followed was a £105,000 LEADER grant that Ian Blackwell, Director of Canoe2, was very grateful for: “The LEADER funding played an extremely important part in keeping us afloat during a period that may well have otherwise brought our project to a very early end.”
And this all stemmed from an application process that allowed Ian unforeseen benefits to Canoe2. “Whilst being relatively rigorous, the application process made us take our business plan and forecasts to a far more detailed level,” said Ian, “meaning that by the end of the application process we certainly had a far more complete picture than when we first went into it.”
With the help of this LEADER funding, Canoe2 has proven itself as a very popular attraction and continues to expand year on year, developing a well-respected and dynamic tourism business which now offers not only canoe hire, but short break trips of up to five days or more that include overnight accommodation in tipi, yurt and bell tents, and utilising local Bed & Breakfast providers and hotels along the River Nene, helping bring many thousands of visitors into the area, boosting the local economy and tourism.
When the final grant payment was made the company was employing four people and benefiting six businesses on the banks of the river. Both of these figures have grown since the project was completed as the organisation continues to form partnerships.
Since the company started, Canoe 2 has teamed up with the Wildlife Trust to offer guided paddle cruises. The venture also works with The Churches Conservation Trust to offer “Champing” (Church Camping) in one of their unused churches in Aldwincle, close to the river to complement the other forms of overnight stays.
Finally, Canoe2 has an agreement with the developer of the Rushden Lakes development, to operate from, and manage, a "boathouse" by the lake. This high-profile building will be cutting-edge, environmentally friendly and carbon neutral. Whilst occupying and managing this building, Canoe2 will also make facilities available to local groups, such as the Sea Cadets & Scouts, as well as managing the lake itself, providing (along with third parties) additional activities on the water. Meanwhile, the established service of the canoe hire trips and multi-day short breaks with accommodation along the river will continue and grow as a result of the far higher profile location.