Allen Mathews—a tribute

Published: Wednesday, 03 March 2010

TRIBUTES have been flooding in to the OwnerShips website following the death of its managing director Allen Mathews, writes Allan Richards. Allen Mathews was the man who invented the concept of shared ownership and proved the sceptics wrong.

A third way

Twenty years ago you either hired or purchased your own boat. No middle ground or stepping stone existed between the two. The concept of potential owners clubbing together to purchase and run a boat may have already existed but not on a large or professional scale. Allen Mathews changed that by introducing managed shared ownership.

Twenty years after the concept was introduced, Ownerships manages over 100 shared craft for well over 1000 owners. In those 20 years, other shared ownership companies have come and gone including OwnerShips' biggest rival, Challenger. However, even in its heyday, for every boat that Challenger launched, OwnerShips launched three, and when Challenger collapsed two years ago it was only a quarter of OwnerShips' size in terms of boats.

A personal tribute

I am just one Allen's many satisfied ex-customers. I am also a satisfied ex-employee. Allen was a rare beast in that he had a mission to make boating affordable to the masses. He understood implicitly that many could not afford the massive cost of buying and running a narrowboat. He also understood that for many, boat ownership was a retirement dream rather than a practical reality fitting into a working life.

Whilst the sceptics may have proved right for others entering the shared ownership marketplace, they proved wrong for Allen who succeeded by putting customers first.

A character

Allen was one of the inland waterways characters. His slightly bemused demeanour hid an exceptional brain and a keen sense of humour. He was also an adventurous boater although he would always claim that he never set out to be adventurous and 'things just happened'. Indeed, Allen owned a boat named Ship Happens but would feign ignorance of the name and the two shades of brown colour scheme.

I last spoke to Allen at length several months ago at a mutual friend's wake which was held on a boat on the tidal Thames. (The mutual friend was very much alive and enjoying the wake with us but it is too complicated to explain!).

Mooring on the Thames barrage

Although not in the best of health, Allen was in top form. His knowledge of the river put mine, as a local, to shame. He recounted the story of having a 'slight engine problem'. but not wanting to cause anyone inconvenience, mooring on the Thames barrage to sort it out only to be accosted by what he called a 'parking warden in a small inflatable boat with a 10hp motor' Allen calmly asked the 'jobsworth' if he could give his third of a million pound barge a tow!

Sadly, Allen did not attend the 20th OwnerShips show at Braunston in early February as he was recovering from an operation so I never had the chance to speak to him again.

Allen leaves a wife, Julie, a son Sam (aged eight) and an elderly father of 98. He also leaves inland waterways a legacy of the third way—shared ownership.