Waterways Wellbeing

Two people canoeing on the canal

JN took part in the canoeing and paddleboarding courses as part of South Leicester Green Social prescribing programme.

Sean PayneCanal & River Trust

I was diagnosed with PTSD several years ago which medication didn’t really touch, I tried talking therapy which helped me to manage it, and the triggers. Although I still live with my PTSD symptoms daily.

I had a major relapse when my poor dad died during lockdown. The last few weeks of his life he was alone, I wasn’t allowed into the hospital to be with him. I was luckier than most, I was allowed half an hour at the end. So many other people didn’t even get that, I’ve been struggling ever since.

I was going back into old patterns of isolating myself, even at work, and my world was getting smaller, I wasn’t sure if I could keep going. cafes, supermarkets etc were too overwhelming with all the noise, lights and fast paced rhythm.

Walking or sitting by the canal made a positive difference to me. I think it’s because the canals are tranquil, everything is slowed down, even the boats are slow.

“There is a natural rhythm, it forces you to be slower and lighter”.


One of the times I was sat by the canal and a Canal and River Trust, Waterways Wellbeing session was just starting. After asking a few questions I decided to take a leap of faith and see if it would help me. It so did!

The first time I was incredibly nervous, I almost cancelled, so my husband stayed close by, but everyone was so warm and welcoming, it felt safe. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the sessions, I just had a gut instinct that it was going to help me. I was at such a low point that I didn’t feel like I had much to lose by trying.

The instructors were all encouraging, and not pushy in the slightest. They let each person go at their own pace and cheered us on when we progressed or tried something new.

You knew that even if everyone in the group outwardly looked ok, they were doing the session because they needed to. This made me feel like I wasn’t alone in needing a bit of extra help in life, it reminded me that all of us are battling something, no matter how we look on the outside.

“Being on the water is like being in a different world, with none of the normal speed/chaos of everyday life”.


The sessions forced me to be around people rather than avoiding them. Once on the paddleboard or sat in the canoe my brain realised it couldn’t make me run away unless I wanted to get wet-through!

Lots of canal boaters are there to enjoy the slower pace of life, they would often smile and say hello as you paddled past, it’s a really nice community.

It was nice that our group would chat a little when we got onto the water, but then we’d also often just quietly paddle together, just taking in the lovely sounds on the water comfortable in each other’s company. It’s great that it’s increased my physical fitness too.

When we all had coffee afterwards, I initially found it stressful as I thought I’d have to be in a busy room with lots of noise, but I relaxed as soon as I saw we were still near the water. We were often sat outside so we were still connected to nature. I think if we’d been in a busy or noisy cafe this part would be something that I wouldn’t enjoy, so it was done in just the right way.

I studied silversmithing a while back now, but my stress and anxiety meant I’d stopped creating and making things. Each week I paddled past a small acorn tree with branches that hung down over the water. I decided that it would be nice if I could take an acorn as a memento and cast it into silver, to remind me of how the lessons have helped make a positive impact on my mental wellbeing. As the weeks progressed, I felt comfortable enough in my balance to finally reach out and pick an acorn, which I have now made into a necklace. Each time I wear it I’ll be reminded of how nature and the kindness of others has helped reset my mind.

“A personal highlight for me was Paddling in the rain! It’s such a grounding experience”. 


After the sessions: I feel very similar to when I first finished my talking therapy. Although my PTSD and anxiety will always be with me, I now have another set of skills to help me ride out the bad times. I feel much lighter and more positive.

Every single one of our group wants to continue being on the water, it’s great that so much information has been sent to us on how to go about it. We’re sure we’re all going to bump into each other again and a few of us might even arrange to meet up for a group session together.

I will make sure I recommend these activities to anyone in a similar position to myself.

“An added bonus, I’ve finally agreed to go out for coffee with friends, so that’s definite progress!”


For more information on this programme, click on the programme link below.

Find out about our support programme

Stand up Paddleboarding session

Blue Social Prescribing

Blue social prescribing is a 5 week paddleboard, canoe or craft course aimed at people who may be feeling anxious, stressed or want to improve their physical health. These sessions allow people to spend time learning a new skill and enjoying our wonderful waterways.

Read more about "Blue Social Prescribing"

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