School for the Creative and Cultural Industries


Navigating the System: London boater community exhibition transfers to Paris

21 February 2024

'Navigating the System', a UCL Urban Room exhibition on London's nomadic boater community and the healthcare challenges they face, joins Campus Condorcet’s first Spring Festival of the Humanities in Paris.

Research participant and boater Caitlin Vinicombe holding a digital camera with UCL researchers Joseph Cook and Nura Ali. smiling and standing in front of the 'Navigating the System' exhibition at the UCL Urban Room in Stratford, East London

London’s canals and rivers host an estimated 4,000 boats. 

This nomadic community, living on the rivers and canals of the capital, form part of a network of over 15,000 boat-dwellers across the UK, and a lifestyle stretching back to the 1700s. Today, boaters living in London struggle to access a range of services whilst keeping on the move. From voting in elections, to getting your child into a school, getting recorded on the census to qualifying for benefits, a lack of address makes things tougher. 

Beginning as a research project led by Joseph Cook and Nura Ali from UCL Anthropology and the UCL Institute for Global Prosperity, the 'Navigating the System' exhibition tells a story of how boaters navigate their way through both London’s waterways, and the UK’s bureaucratic healthcare systems.

The stories of boat-dwellers reveal an intimate perspective from a variety of individuals and their experiences shed light on the systematic failure to reconcile transient ways of living with the universal right to health. The exhibition features the photography of Caitlin Vinicombe, also a boater, alongside quotes and data from the research.

This exhibition was first hosted at the UCL Urban Room, part of the School for Creative and Cultural Industries and a practice-based teaching, research and public exhibition space at the UCL East campus, dedicated to debate and engagement around future living and urbanism. 

Following a UCL East visit to Campus Condorcet, a new social sciences campus in northern Paris, the team have been invited to show the exhibition again, now retitled ‘Naviguer le Système’, as part of Campus Condorcet’s first Spring Festival of the Humanities - Le Printemps des Humanités. The festival itself will take place 21-23 March 2024, and the exhibition will then stay open to the public until 30 April 2024.

We look forward to following the lasting legacy of this important work, as it develops and engages new audiences.

Find out more about the exhibition and the research behind it on the Navigating the System website. You can also explore a digital version of the exhibiton.