Islington cancer survivor’s ‘to do’ list led to canal festival honour
While battling ovarian cancer 22 years ago, Beryl Windsor scribbled down on the back on an envelope everything she wanted to do if she survived, with buying a narrow boat topping the list.
Not only did she beat the disease to fulfil that dream, she has also worked tirelessly to ensure one of the biggest annual celebrations on the Regent’s Canal continues – and has been awarded a British Empire Medal (BEM) for her important work.
The Angel Canal Festival was started by the late Crystal Hale in 1987 after she successfully took on British Waterways to save the City Road Basin from being filled in and developed. When she fell ill in 1999, fellow organiser Jim Lagden was desperate for help and Ms Windsor, whose boat was moored at St Pancras Basin, and her friend Sasha Mears stepped up to the mark.
Since Mr Lagden’s death in 2008, they have ran the festival, now in its 26th year, and this year is set to be the biggest yet as the council funds a host of additional activities out of its Olympic grant.
Ms Windsor, who now lives in Birmingham with her husband Steve Burt but keeps her boat moored at St Pancras Basin, said: “The festival hasn’t changed much but has grown to be more inclusive - that stretch of canal covers houses worth millions as well as council houses, but just for the day everybody mingles together to enjoy the day.”
She said she was “absoultely astonished, but very honoured” to be handed the BEM, and added: “I think it is a pat on the back for all of those that have done all the work for the festival over the years. To have somebody take a step back and recognised it is a very nice thing and totally unexpected.”
Ms Windsor fell in love with idea of owning a narrow boat when she passed St Pancras Basin every day on her journey to work as a PA in King’s Cross. She lived in Northampton at the time and stopped commuting in order to extend her mortgage and buy her own boat, which she lived on during the week.