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Five Quick-fire Questions for Kate Saffin

Our 5th anniversary blog series continues with another interview, this time on Alarum’s other co-founder: Kate Saffin. Alongside her projects with Alarum, Kate is a writer, storyteller, and actor. Currently living on a narrowboat, she’s a proper boater too. In this quick-fire interview, Kate looks back on Alarum’s achievements and the historical facts, found along the way, she treasures.

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What is your earliest boating memory? 

Been around boats of various sorts since childhood – canoes, a series of motor catamarans all called Seascoot (I to V) which we used around the Pembrokeshire coast, fished for mackerel and swam from; sailing dinghies, a little bit of big boat sailing… My first memory of the canal was cycling along the Grand Union near where I grew up in Northamptonshire. First boating on the canal was an outing with a group on a restaurant boat sometime in the early 1980s on the Oxford Canal: from Thrupp up to Shipton and on to the River Cherwell – no idea then that that would become my home one day.

What, in your opinion, is Alarum’s best achievement? 

Recreating the journeys worked by the wartime trainees, sharing (extensively) the fact that Idle Women was NOT a nickname created by the boatmen and its real source. And, more recently, capturing the incredible collection of oral histories from women in the Black Country.

Kate and Heather on the Recreating the Journey Tour, at the mile marker on the Grand Union that celebrates the contribution of trainer Eily (Kit) Gayford

What’s your favourite line from one of your shows? 

When we’re in the middle of a tour, and immersed in the text of the show, it’s surprising just how often a line from my play or one of Heather’s poems creeps into the conversation! I think my favourite is ” Drop that paddle!’ – the moment when Isobel, struggling to make sense of setting a lock for the first time, meets the irascible Mr Carter. And it makes sure the audience are awake!

What’s your favourite historical fact you’ve learnt along the last five years? 

Favourite historical fact – the real source of the Idle Women nickname. But also, something not quite a fact, but part of the research into the women involved in saving the canals – seeing and reading the handwritten letters by Angela Rolt, one of the women involved in the very early days of the campaign to save the canals just after the war.

What are you looking forward to? 

Working on a new I Dig Canals show with Heather – exploring different ways to tell stories so that we can be sharing and entertaining, even though we can’t do live performance just yet. And even when we can, I think we will continue to offer digital and online events because we’ve found that, now so many people have got used to using video calling, watching theatre, taking part in workshops online, listening to audio… that it’s going to carry on being an important and useful way for people to join in. Especially for people in far flung bits of the canal, or for whom getting out (or getting home again afterwards) for any reason is difficult.


Our celebratory series now has only two posts left – look out for some fun facts about the most unusual venues Alarum has performed in, and our most memorable boating and performance moments.

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