Let’s end the year on a high

MEET THE VOLUNTEERS who transformed a stretch of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal with sculptures, murals and restored wildlife habitats.

Illustration by Christiane Engel

Words by Peter Watts

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December provides a chance to look back at the past year as well as look forward to what’s coming ahead. Here at Canal & River Trust, this means looking back to celebrate the incredible work of our growing army of volunteers through 2019. And the first few months of 2020 are all about our Open Day winter programme, which gives you a unique opportunity to see some of the brilliant essential work done by Trust staff across the network.

Let’s start with the past year. In 2019, Canal & River Trust volunteers gave an extraordinary 670,000 hours of combined time to our network – each and every minute of which helped make the canals a better place for all. To celebrate this contribution, the Marsh Christian Trust and the Canal & River Trust have named this year’s volunteers awards from across the Trust’s regions.

The awards cover a wide range of volunteering contributions including some who have spent their spare time in the archives helping to catalogue important collections for the National Waterways Museum and others who have got their hands dirty by widening the navigation for boaters on the Trent. There are some who have used their knowledge and skills to help restore complex paddle gear and others who inexhaustibly and cheerfully maintain the 21-lock Wigan Flight on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. There are two awards in each region – a team award and an individual award.

Richard Parry, our chief executive, emphasises that the awards recognise the increasingly important contribution volunteers make to the network. “These awards showcase the fantastic contribution that volunteers make, carrying out a vast array of activities and tasks, bringing their wide and expanding range of skills and experience, along with their enthusiasm, passion and sheer hard work,” he says. “I offer my congratulations to them all. Our volunteers also demonstrate how our canals, rivers and towpaths can deliver greater wellbeing, showcasing how they improve their own physical and mental health by spending time with us.”

Winter Open Days

Looking ahead to 2020, volunteers will be in attendance at our upcoming Winter Open Days. A number of these are being scheduled across the network over the colder months, when the canals see a slowdown in the numbers of people using them. That makes it the perfect occasion to engage in some of the heavy duty maintenance work that is essential to ensure the 200-year old infrastructure remains usable. This is the time of the year when sections of the canals can be drained and locks can be closed, allowing the Trust’s engineers to shore up banks, dredge canal bottoms and replace lock gates. There is a rolling programme for this sort of work, and the Trust also uses it as an opportunity to attract visitors to the canals so they can see in close detail the sort of work that is needed to ensure the canals are fit for purpose.

This winter’s open days should include events at two of the network’s most iconic locations – the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal and Foxton Locks on the Leicester line of the Grand Union. Both are due some well-deserved TLC, and this also provides the Trust with a unique opportunity to showcase this side of their work. Maintenance work will be taking place at several other places around the country over the winter months and more than half-a-dozen Open Days are being planned. While dates and times aren’t all confirmed at the time of writing, you can keep up to date with planned Open Day events via our website.

What’s coming up near me in 2020?

There are no Winter Open Days planned for the North East in 2020 as yet, but the area’s volunteer awards went to the seven-person Saltaire & Shipley Taskforce, whose exciting vision is to transform a four-mile stretch of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal by creating a series of interlinking gardens. These will use a combination of sculptures, murals, wildlife habitats and interpretation boards to make visiting the towpath a rich and rewarding experience for everybody who uses it.

The individual award went to Ian Kelshaw, who has led a team of volunteer lock keepers at Sowerby Bridge, where the Calder & Hebble Navigation meets the Rochdale Canal. Ian managed the team pretty much single-handedly, meaning the Trust felt they could leave this important and busy stretch of canal in his capable hands.

Posted on 23/12/2019