IT HAS raised more than 155,000 smiles over the past two decades and has no intention of slowing down. The Willow Trust, based in Cirencester, has celebrated another successful year on Gloucestershire’s canals with one of its most loyal supporters.
From a humble office tucked behind Cirencester Rugby Club's grounds, the Willow Trust offers a beacon of light to around 7,000 children and adults each year.
The charity provides free days out aboard two specially built canal boats to people with physical and learning disabilities, to the elderly and also to people who are seriously ill.
Its invaluable service is completely dependent on voluntary donations. And this month, the Willow Trust got a much-needed boost when the Cirencester branch of The Coventry Building Society presented the charity with a cheque for £2,500 this month.
Willow Trust administrator Liz Rowland said the branch, formerly the Stroud and Swindon Building Society, and its customers have been supporting the charity for more than a decade.
"It’s that kindness that keeps the Willow Trust afloat," she said.
Liz said that a day aboard their wheelchair accessible canal boats on the Gloucester-Sharpness canal often gave a rare opportunity for many of the users to spend time away from their usual surroundings.
Despite having worked at the Willow Trust since it was established in 1989, Lizzie said she never ceased to be moved by the amount of joy the experience could bring to their guests.
"It brightens people’s lives," she said. "To see their faces – especially the children’s – it’s amazing."
This year, Paternoster School, Cirencester Multiple Sclerosis Group and Cotswold Care Hospice have all benefited from the service.
Activities coordinator for Leonard Cheshire Disability, Susan Woodward, said the experience had been a wonderful lift for their disabled adult residents in Banbury.
"One of our residents who cannot use her arms was delighted to have the opportunity to steer the boat with her feet and later enjoyed sitting out on deck in the sunshine."
Keeping the two canal boats, Leonard Matchan and Spirit of Freedom II, in tip top condition costs tens of thousands of pounds each year.
In its 22nd season, the charity again received support from a variety of organisations and individuals including local Rotary and Lions clubs and the Gloucester Police Male Voice Choir.
Now the charity is looking for more ‘Friends of the Willow Trust' to come forward and make a donation to the charity to help it survive through testing times.
To find out more and to donate, visit willowtrust.org or call 01285 651661.