Hundreds of raucous Canalival revellers set sail on the Regent’s Canal

PUBLISHED: 22:29 03 June 2013 | UPDATED: 09:30 04 June 2013

The Canalival, photo courtesy of Barney Guiton

The Canalival, photo courtesy of Barney Guiton


A chaotic carnival of inflatable dinghies set sail down the Regent’s Canal on Saturday, despite organisers’ last minute efforts to cancel the flotilla when its popularity spiralled out of control and 9,000 revellers signed up to take part.

The idea for the Canalival sprung up from last year’s alternative Diamond Jubilee pageant, the Jubilegal, which saw hundreds of royally-dressed partygoers float their way from Gainsborough Studios in Shoreditch Park to Broadway Market, accompanied by music.

Organisers and Hackney residents, Chris Gourlay, his sister Hannah and her boyfriend Mike O’Shea wanted to transform the concept into a fully blown event this year, with stewards, lifeguards, portaloos and post-event cleaners.

But the Canal and River Trust, which owns the waterway, raised “serious concerns”, and when it became clear last week how many people planned to turn up, police refused to back the alcohol licensing application, and the Canalival organisers were unable to secure insurance.

A cancellation notice was posted on the internet on Friday, warning the event could become a potentially “genuinely dangerous situation” because of inadequate safety measures.

However thousands of alcohol-fuelled revellers descended on the canal anyway, with one participant, student Tristan White, stating on the event’s official Facebook page: “It’s not yours to cancel. This is a people’s festival.”

Many residents complained at the “devastating mess” left behind, with broken glass on the towpath, abandoned dinghies, communal gardens used as toilets and some voicing concern about the effect on wildlife and nesting chicks.

Jon Guest, waterway manager at the Canal and River Trust, said the charity had not been happy with the event’s organisation or the “dreadful mess” left in its aftermath, which took contractors and volunteers working from 5.30am on Sunday more than 12 hours to clean up.

“We love people enjoying themselves on the waterways, but not when it comes at the expense of the canal, its wildlife and its other users and neighbours,” he said.

“We will be meeting the authorities and organisers to ensure that lessons are learned from this.”

Canalival organiser Mr Gourlay said he was “gutted” at the way things had turned out.

“We really didn’t want the fun of a bunch of people to come at the expense of local people and the environment,” he said.

“A lot of the people who took part have gone to clean up the harder to reach places on the banks, but clearly it hasn’t been fast enough and substantial enough given the scale of the event, and for that I can only say we are really sorry.”

He added: “Local businesses do support it, and if we can get the balance right it does speak to the character of East London in some ways, so if we can continue with it and make sure it’s responsibly managed I think people would welcome that.

“Of course it was raucous, it was chaotic and it was disorderly, and the by-product was the rubbish it generated, but I think the tone of most of the event was positive, and people were remarkably good spirited.

“This is clearly a popular concept, we don’t own the concept of people coming to the canal on a summer’s day.”

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