Open days in the Midlands

See bespoke lock gates being fitted and the hard work that goes into maintaining the waterways

Locks 1 & 2, Birmingham & Fazeley Canal


Winter might seem like a good time for hibernation but it’s actually the busiest period of year for some parts of the canal system. Winter is when vital maintenance work takes place and it’s also when we hold our Winter Open Days, giving members of the public a chance to experience the network in a completely different way.

“The Winter Open Days allow us to show the public the ongoing restoration and repair work,” explains Campaigns Manager Sarah Burns. “But they are also about getting to different locations and making ourselves visible to communities where the canal is an integral part of the landscape but might not be getting used.”

This year’s Open Days all take place in urban locations, with events scheduled on health and wellbeing themes. There will be canoeing, paddleboarding, children’s activities, food, drink, wildlife walks, local heritage tours, boat trips and collaborations with local history groups and businesses. The intention is to celebrate the history and future of canals, encouraging locals to appreciate these assets by drawing new visitors down to the water. “We want to attract people who already know who we are and love the canal,” says Sarah. “But we also want the people who might use their local canal. We want to show the difference canals make to communities. There are so many activities on the canals that people can get involved in.”

Dean Davies, the Trust’s Direct Service Manager, explains that the £38m winter works programme take place between November and March when boats are less likely to be using the network. “That’s when we do the vast amount of any repairs that require a closure of the navigation and draining of the basin,” he says. “It might be an aqueduct, a canal wall, a lock or a bridge. We have about 1,500 locks and the gates all last about 25 years, so we need to change a significant number every year or the system will fail.”

The coming Winter Open Days take place in seven different locations, and feature a variety of types of work. One of the most popular will be the major works taking place at the Anderton Boat Lift on the Weaver Navigation in February. The boat lift is one of the network’s most magnificent elements of infrastructure and will provide a memorable backdrop to the other events taking place. Also of interest will be open days in city centres such as Manchester, Chester and Burnley, while in London and the south east there will be an open day at Cowley Lock on the Grand Union Canal in Uxbridge, again themed specifically for local interests.

Dean says one of the benefits of the Open Days is that they allow the maintenance staff to show the public their skills and communicate with the public directly. “They are life-affirming events,” he says. “We get all sorts of people and such a lot of positive feedback it really keeps you going for the rest of the year. This winter it’s all about the wellbeing agenda, showing where we can have an impact on that area. It’s not just about the work itself but participation, community engagement and water safety. It’s really positive experience, with a vast number of people coming together on the day.”

Lock 12 Northampton Arm, Grand Union Canal

Saturday 9 March 2019

Canal & River Trust’s staff will be replacing and repairing lock gates along the Northampton Arm of the Grand Union Canal, which provides the perfect setting for a winter open day. The event will be centred round Lock 17 of this heavily locked area of the canal network, and visitors will be able to see the work take place and talk to the Trust’s experts about their maintenance programme. A single lock gate weighs an average of 3.6 tonnes, can take up to 20 days to construct and has a working life of 25-30 years. This event will also feature a variety of other free family events, including guided walks, food and drink and events tailored around a health and wellbeing theme.

Lock 2 (Northgate Lock), Shropshire Union Canal

Saturday 2 March

There are around 1,500 locks on the Canal & River Trust’s network and every year dozens of these have to be repaired and replaced. For the public, this provides a rare opportunity to step inside a drained lock chamber and to talk to some of the Trust’s experts about their work, as well as to see some of the other activities and opportunities that are provided by the canals. The work will be centred on Lock 2 – Northgate Middle Lock – and requires the replacement and refurbishment of the mitre lock gates. The lock gates are made from sustainable oak and bespoke metalwork, with each set of lock gates being completely unique and made to measure by the Trust’s experts. The open day will allow visitors to learn more about this process as well as the importance of water safety, and also enjoy a range of other activities at the canal.

Locks 1 & 2, Birmingham & Fazeley Canal

Saturday 23 and Sunday 24 February 2019

The centre of Birmingham will be the location of an open weekend this February, when the Canal & River Trust puts on a variety of activities around the waterway. These will be focused on the winter maintenance programme, which will see considerable work taking place along this section of the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal including the replacement of the bottom gate and repair of the top gate, repair of brickwork, quoins and lock ladders. The open weekend will allow visitors to see the brand new hand crafted gates, made at the local Bradley workshop, as well as inspect the old gates. A heritage working boat will be moored on the canal so visitors can learn about the life of families who lived aboard, and there will be activities for children and a collaboration with Greening Birmingham, a volunteer project to grow and protect Birmingham’s plants and wildlife. There will also be towpath walks and talks that explore why canals in central Birmingham are such a great place to spend time.

Elliot Brown