Adopt a mile – North East

Organising festivals, tidying towpaths and dredging up mattresses: we chat to the Ancoats Canal Project about their stretch of the Rochdale and Ashton Canals

Canal & River Trust


Tell us about the Ancoats Canal Project…
We’re a volunteer group that has adopted two stretches of canal in the Ancoats and New Islington area of central Manchester. We’re a mixture of local residents and canal enthusiasts working to make more of the Rochdale and Ashton canals that run though Ancoats into the Northern Quarter.

What inspired you to adopt a canal?
Ancoats and New Islington are areas undergoing rapid change, with new flats, offices and businesses popping up. However, in 2011, when our group first formed, the towpaths and areas around the canals had been neglected for a long time. It was the passion of a small group of local residents, with a shared belief that our canals are a vital asset, that resulted in the formation of the group. We felt a desire to tidy things up and present the canals in a more positive light. We wanted to celebrate the canals’ industrial heritage and make them feel like more welcoming spaces for people to use.

Tell us about the stretches you’ve adopted – what are they like?
Our stretches on the Rochdale and Ashton canals are roughly from Great Ancoats Street up to Butler Street. It’s a largely built-up area and rubbish is a persistent problem, but we have great volunteers who regularly carry out litter picks.

The Ashton Canal is good for cyclists, runners and anglers, mainly down to improvements of the towpath surface in recent years, plus our work maintaining areas of planting around the towpath. Our stretch of the Rochdale Canal isn’t quite as accessible as the towpath is quite narrow in places, though we do our best to ensure nothing gets too overgrown.

Over the past few years we’ve noticed the variety of wildlife has been increasing. We love spotting herons fishing on the canals, especially as we’re so close to Manchester city centre! We’ve carried out a lot of work as part of our nature trail project to increase biodiversity, which has involved planting trees, hedges, bulbs and wildflowers in order to reclaim some overgrown spots and generally green up and beautify the area.

What’s your biggest achievement so far since adopting the canal?
It would be difficult to choose one particular achievement as we’ve carried out a range of activities and events, such as summer festivals, fishing competitions, pulling motorbikes and mattresses out of the canals, and on one very memorable occasion planting 500 hedge plants along the Ashton canal in one day. It was a big task but we had a bumper turn out of volunteers, which was fantastic.

Have there been any surprises or challenges?
Every event we organise throws up new surprises and challenges, from how to extract a shopping trolley from the canal to how to stop Canada geese eating wildflower seedlings. We never cease to be surprised and humbled when passers-by go out of their way to stop and thank us for our work. If you do see us out on the towpath – we’re easy to spot in our blue high vis – stop and say hello. Maybe you might like to join us next time!

How can others get involved?
We meet on the last Sunday of the month (dates sometimes change due to bank holidays or events) and we’re always keen for new volunteers to join us. Our work days run from 10.30am to 4pm, with lunch at 1pm. Just turn up on the day, we provide all equipment, and stay as long as you can. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter @ancoatscanal or check out our website

The Canal & River Trust is helping local groups around the country to adopt a stretch of waterway to benefit their community. To find out more and get involved, visit