Making a splash (l-r): ‘Reclaim the Towpath’ organisers Kate Saffin, Helen Brice and Tank. Photograph: Mike Doherty

East London’s boaters have pledged to win back canal towpaths from criminals who use them to “prey” on victims.

More than half of 500 towpath users who responded to a recent social media survey said they now avoid the walkways because of safety fears.

But organisers of an upcoming ‘Reclaim the Towpath’ event, who met following the spate of violent muggings along the waterways over the summer, are hoping to turn the tide.

Boatswoman Helen Brice said: “We know that there is a lot of strength and support in the boating and towpath-using communities, but safety is an issue for us all, and we hope this event will bring people together in a positive way.”

Four hundred boaters filled in the online survey, which was launched soon after the canalside crime wave.

Over half of them have had property stolen, while 25 per cent have been the victim of a burglary or an attempted break-in.

Two thirds of all respondents take safety precautions, such as carrying an alarm or not walking alone, when using the canal paths.

The responses have added extra impetus to the ‘Reclaim the Towpath’ event, which takes place on 1 October.

Supporters will meet at the towpath by Springfield Park at 1.30pm and form a human chain which is expected to stretch all the way to Markfield Park in Tottenham and beyond.

After that, a safety workshop will be held on The Village Butty – the London boating community’s ‘floating village hall’ – which will be moored nearby.

The event, which is expected to last a couple of hours, has the support of Lea Rowing Club and waterways charity The Canal and River Trust, along with several community groups.

Sorwar Ahmed, the Trust’s London Boating Manager, is hoping for a high turnout: “One of the best things about the waterways is the sense of community between those who live, work and play on and alongside the waterways.

“The towpaths are there for everyone to use and enjoy and it’s shocking when criminals use them as a base to prey on others.”

Lea Rowing Club president David Carruthers said: “The River Lea is one of the hidden gems of east London and a fantastic resource for the local community.

“Ensuring safety for everyone who uses the river, both on the water and on the towpath, is crucially important to us all, so it’s great to see people coming together, looking out for each other and showing solidarity. We’re very happy to support this event.”

Brice urged people to come along, adding: “This is a community and social event, we will be having fun, and all are welcome. Be sure to bring a brolly and a flask of something hot if it rains!”

‘Reclaim the Towpath’ starts at 1.30pm on Sunday 1 October on the towpath by the Riverside Café in Springfield Park. 

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