Peter Watts Posted on 16/09/2019
Local societies are the white blood cells of the canal network, working hard to protect, preserve, restore and promote the canal system in their areas. And there aren’t many places in the country – or in any country, in fact – with as many miles of canals as Birmingham, which means the Birmingham Canal Navigations Society (BCNS) have their work cut out to oversee their chosen patch. But this is what the volunteers of the BCNS have been doing since 1968, working closely with the Canal & River Trust to ensure Birmingham’s unique network of canals remains a source of local pride as well as a national treasure.
The Birmingham Canal Navigations system constitutes around 100 miles of canal centred on Gas Street Basin in the city centre and spreading into the surrounding countryside through a variety of canals including the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal, Main Line, and Worcester & Birmingham Canal. The fact Birmingham still has so many canals is down to the work of the BCNS, which was formed in 1968 to protect threatened canals. Now that the immediate danger is over, the BCNS is focused on restoration, maintenance and promotion. The society’s home is a restored pumphouse on the Titford Canal in Oldbury, where members meet monthly for talks by a variety of speakers. The BCNS also runs two annual cruises and the Marathon Challenge, to see how much of the network can be covered over a bank holiday weekend.
Like many local societies, volunteers at the BCNS aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty, and regularly take part in maintenance work using a purpose-built working boat. The BCNS also owns two traditional working boats with Combeswood Canal Trust, a local society focusing on the Dudley No 2 Canal. The BCNS are currently working to refurbish Titford Pools and in November 2019 will celebrate the 250th anniversary of the canals reaching Birmingham with a mass cruise into the city centre followed by entertainment at the Crescent Theatre.