Councillor Mildred Stocks, Founder and President of the Association, served as Chairman of Hart District Council from 1985-87. After discussing fund-raising options with many members of the community, Mildred was approached by two canal enthusiasts, David Gerry and David Millett, who explained the problems facing elderly and disabled people accessing the day boat John Pinkerton operated by the Surrey & Hants Canal Society. Having experienced life in a wheelchair for some 6 months in 1971 herself, Mildred appreciated the limitations facing those whose disability severely limited their mobility and in particular the ability to visit and enjoy the countryside.
Thus the idea was born to raise funds for a day boat with wheelchair access to operate on the Basingstoke Canal.
The project was launched in July 1985. Through a contact at the Royal Aircraft Establishment in Farnborough it was agreed to build the new boat with the help of their Apprentices and Youth Training Scheme personnel, a government initiative providing young people with the opportunity to learn basic skills in Metalwork, Woodwork and Electrical work. Various fundraising activities took place, including the involvement of the 2nd Battalion King Edward Vll Own Gurkha Rifles (The Sirmoor Rifles) based in Church Crookham, who presented Mildred with a cheque for £2000 – every Gurkha having given £1.
Registered Charity Boats for the Handicapped was formed in early 1986 in preparation for the start of operating the Mildred Stocks on the Bsingstoke Canal from Odiham's Colt Hill wharf.
Six members of the Canal Society (David and Judith Gerry, Stan and lris Knight, David and Rosemary Millett) joined Mildred to plan the construction and running of a day boat. In July 1986, following a competition held to select a name, the first ABA canal boat was launched by Lady de Knayth and named The Mildred Stocks. Day trips began.
After 9 years of fund raising, our cruising boat Madam Butterfly was launched in July 1995 at a cost of £63,000. Prunella Scales and Timothy West attended the naming ceremony as Patrons.
In 1997 it was decided that a replacement craft for the day boat Mildred Stocks was required. The Association applied for a Lottery grant and obtained £34,750, to which the Association added £l0,000. The design was prepared by one of the Association's disabled members, using computer design facilities at Farnborough College of Technology, together with technical support and reprographic services from BAe Systems.
Dawn was launched in April 1999 into the Basingstoke Canal at The Coalpen in Crookham Village. The original day boat Mildred Stocks was retired.
Following consultation with interested parties, it was decided that the Charity should be renamed to recognise that the boats catered for a wider range of-disabilities than originally envisaged. At the AGM in March 2001 the membership approved the change of name to Accessible Boating Association (ABA).
Husband and wife canal-boating ABA patrons Timothy West and Prunella Scales attended a celebration at Colt Hill on Friday 16 September 2011 to mark the 25th anniversary of the founding of the ABA. Greeted by current President and founding chairman Mildred Stocks, they toured the boats and met many of the volunteers who contribute so much to helping the charity serve the local community.
To mark the occasion, commemorative plaques were added to both boats and a framed photograph of Dawn and Madam Butterfly on the canal was presented to our two Patrons.