Boaters' Update 13 Dec 2019

Welcome to the final edition of 2019. As has become tradition you'll find a message from chief exec Richard Parry, a review of the year's big stories along with details of how to get in touch over the Christmas period.

Snow viewed from the bow of a narrowboat Snow viewed from the bow of a narrowboat

I’m always amazed that when I come to write the final Boaters’ Update of the year it feels as though I’ve not long finished writing the first one. It’s ironic that being involved with a way of life that celebrates a slower pace, it seemingly makes time go faster – I guess the old adage of ‘time flies when you’re having fun’ is true!

Even if the year has seemed to pass quickly a lot has been crammed in and, in what has come to be a bit of a Boaters’ Update tradition, this final one, looks back on the events of the past 12 months. You’ll also be able to read a message from chief exec, Richard Parry, and find out how to get in touch with us over the holiday period.

The regular roundup of other news, stoppages, events and ways to get involved are also included, and if there’s an article you’d like to read in a future edition then please drop me a line.

Merry Christmas and happy boating,

Damian

In this edition:

News round-up and upcoming events

Over the last few weeks you may have seen that:

  • 25 Nov – The winners of the BCN250 photo competition were announced. Over 300 photos were submitted as part of the competition which aimed to capture the unique beauty of the historic waterways across Birmingham and the Black Country.
  • 29 Nov – Together with Marsh Christian Trust, we were pleased to announce those recognised at this year’s volunteer awards which celebrate volunteer excellence along the nation’s waterways.
  • 29 Nov – Work to regenerate the historic Swansea Canal continued this month with a key element, the dredging of almost a mile of the waterway between Coed Gwilym Park in Clydach and Trebanos.

Below I’ve picked out some festive events that you might be interested in over the next month. There are plenty of other activities and volunteering opportunities if none of the below take your fancy. Just visit the events section of the website to find the perfect one for you.

  • 21 Dec – Before heading off in to the usually frenetic Christmas holidays, why not take a step back and unwind at Light Up the Lock at Apperley Bridge. Help us make lanterns and work with our stonemason to make candle holders, or join local artist Alexandra Francis in making a community art installation. If that's not your thing there is free yoga, tai chi and mindfulness walks (must be pre-booked lightupthelock.eventbrite.co.uk.)
  • Until 23 Dec - Santa has found some time in his busy schedule to come and see us at National Waterway Museum Gloucester on our barge Sabrina 5 this Christmas and he would love you to bring your little ones along for story time and perhaps a present if they’ve been good!
  • Until 24 Dec – You can choose to cruise with Santa Claus in any one of five locations on the Chesterfield Canal. Every child will receive a present from the big man in red and every adult can have a mince pie and a drink!

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A message from chief exec, Richard Parry

Richard Parry, chief executiveAs we come to the end of the year, it’s good to reflect on the progress we’ve made since we were last putting out the decorations. 

First, I appreciate the commitment that you’ve made as boaters, and I hope you have enjoyed the time you’ve spent on the water this year.  I am acutely conscious that the Trust’s primary responsibility is to ensure the network is kept safe and in working order so that you can enjoy it; whilst also fulfilling our role to ensure the waterways are available for future generations to appreciate as well.  We know that work all needs funding, and so it’s vital we continue to grow and broaden our support and make the canals and river navigations an integral part of the places and communities they run through; but it also means we prioritise the needs of boaters and other users so you can continue to enjoy them.

Our expenditure on the network, largely to support boating, continues to rise; we’ve recently announced that we’re spending over £43m on repairs this winter, replacing over 100 lock-gates and also including major works to strengthen embankments on the Macclesfield at Bollington and by the Lune aqueduct on the Lancaster Canal, and in Hurleston Locksrebuilding Hurleston Lock so that more boats can safely get on to the wonderful Llangollen Canal - look out for our open days, including at Foxton Locks and the Anderton Boat Lift early in 2020.

We’ve also strengthened our operational response this year, with reactive teams in place in each region to deal with any immediate issues.  With the scale and age of the infrastructure we care for, plus all of the external factors, there will be always be occasions when the network creaks, but we will always do our best to get things back open as quickly as we can. 

Inevitably a proportion of our spending is also going on our reservoirs, and the events at Whaley Bridge in August have played a large part in shaping the second half of our year at the Trust as we’ve responded to that incident, sought to understand why it happened, and started to address its wider impact.  We’re already thinking ahead to how we manage water supplies on the canals affected next year.

Of course the sheer breadth and scale of what we do means that there are numerous other areas of our work where good progress continues. The expanding range of additional tasks that our fantastic volunteers do – in helping with our management of the network (with more groups tackling off-side vegetation clearance for example), as well strengthening links to local communities – continues to make an important difference, bringing so much enthusiasm and belief to what they do with and for the Trust and our users.

But we know too that there’s still much for us to work on; we’ve appreciated the response we’ve had to our new Monthly Boating Survey (which now gives us much more immediate feedback on how we are performing), and it’s been encouraging to see the overall evaluation improving.  We’re committed to ongoing dialogue – both with those boaters who’ve become part of our governance, whether taking a seat on Council, or through the various advisory groups that we consult with, including this year a new forum for boaters with disabilities – and with the various member boating organisations who do such a good job in sharing constructive feedback on your behalf.  Finally, we’re always happy to hear from you direct when you see something that needs our attention.

I can’t escape noting that you’ll read this as we’re all contemplating whatever new Government the election has delivered, and one of our tasks next year will be to continue our political engagement to ensure we secure the best possible future, both for our funding and the wider policy support we need, whilst also showing how much we can do for them to make it all very worthwhile!

So as we all turn our minds towards our enjoyment of the festive celebrations, and hopefully find some time to relax and re-charge with family and friends – perhaps on or by the canal, as our little friend (and marketing creation) Well-B would?!, please also spare a thought to our colleagues who’ll be out or on-call to check water levels and respond to any incidents or bad weather throughout the Christmas and New Year period. 

We hope you’re looking forward to the boating plans you’ve got for 2020 – and we look forward to making them as pleasurable as we can – and maybe I’ll bump into you out somewhere, so please say hello if you do.

Richard

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The big stories of 2019

Before reflecting on the big stories of the past year I thought it might be interesting to generate a word cloud – a graphic that displays words more prominently depending on their frequency – of all the 25 editions of Boaters’ Update published this year.

Boaters' Update word cloud

Please do draw your own conclusions from the word cloud but I thought, apart from the big obvious words, it was fitting to see involve, volunteer, team and work feature reasonably prominently given that you, our wonderful boating community, do contribute so much to the waterways – thank you from everyone at Trust.

So, what has happened this year?

January

Tying in nicely with the recent announcement of the winners of the photography competition, 2019 marked the start of a big year for the Birmingham Canal Navigations as Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street launched a year of celebrations marking the 250th anniversary of the birth of Birmingham’s famous canals.

February

The month started with snow but, just a few weeks later, broke the record for the UK’s warmest winter day. On the waterways, more positive news was announced with the start of one of the largest river restorations of its kind ever attempted in Europe – Unlocking the Severn – which will reopen over 150 miles of the River Severn to protected and endangered fish species.

March

Brexit dominated the news channels and demoted big announcements such as the banning of gas heating for new homes from 2025 and speed limiting technology for all new cars from 2022 to the shadows. All the while engineers on the ever-popular Kennet & Avon Canal were working seven days a week to re-open a lock after finding it needed much more attention than first thought.

April

Pre-empting the hottest Easter Monday on record, we published our £8 million dredging plans for 2019-20 which included how we’d support our charity-wide water saving work by prioritising dredging at many feeder channels.

May

While there wasn’t much celebrating to be done for the UK’s last placed Eurovision entry, Crick Boat Show’s 20th anniversary proved a hit for over 27,000 visitors.

More positivity could be found in the National Boat Count – where the boat licence customer support team tread every inch of every canal and river to count boats and licences – a 2.3% increase in boats was recorded and licence compliance remained above 95% for the tenth year in a row.

June

The good news turned great this month as we announced nearly £3 million of funding thanks to support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery.

We’ve been supported by the players of People’s Postcode Lottery since the Trust was formed in 2012 and, thanks to this fantastic help, projects such as working alongside former military servicemen on canal heritage projects and work to improve the network’s important wildlife-rich hedgerows have received funding totalling £6.3 million.

July

This year will be remembered for many things but how many of us have already forgotten that the UK’s highest-ever temperature was officially recorded towards the end of the month? It wasn’t all sunshine and ice cream though, as the month also had periods of intense rainfall, with some parts of northern England receiving more than twice the average rainfall. Oh, and we got a new Prime Minister in Boris Johnson.

On the waterways in London, we published a new report showing, since 2012, an 84% increase in the number of boats cruising in the capital and explained how we were improving the boating experience in this increasingly popular environment.

August

Following the intense heavy rainfall at the end of the previous month, several concrete panels on the Toddbrook Reservoir dam spillway became dislodged. Around 1,500 residents of Whaley Bridge were evacuated from their homes for six nights as a safety precaution. Our colleagues and volunteers worked around the clock with the local emergency services, including Derbyshire Fire & Rescue, Derbyshire Police and the Environment Agency, to stabilise the dam wall.

Over a billion litres of water were pumped from the reservoir during this emergency phase and water levels continue to remain nearly empty while the dam is repaired. This is likely to take several years. Needless to say that we’re keeping a close eye on regional water resources but it’s too early to say whether this will have any effect on navigation next year.

September

Some of you would have spent one warm afternoon this month at our Annual General Meeting and heard that spending on our charitable activities topped £156m while those volunteering gave a record 670,000 hours of their time.

Green Flag status was reported as continuing to grow with 250 miles of waterway holding the quality assurance mark (now 300 miles). We also used the meeting to launch the second edition of our Boater Report, developed specifically for boat licence holders to give an overview of how much it costs to maintain our canals and rivers, including where our money comes from and where it gets spent.

October

Many of us were sheltering from torrential downpours – some places receiving a week’s worth of rain in just one hour – but at least it meant we had time to learn what proroguing means.

Thankfully calmer weather prevailed as some worthy winners ventured to a gala event in Birmingham as the ‘Oscars of the Waterways’ were celebrated.

November

As happens evey year, one canal or another starts or continues its arduous journey from dereliction back to full use proving that the network is an ever changing beauty. This month, work started on dredging more of the Swansea Canal, opening up the canal to enable Swansea Canal Society to operate a trip boat and also improve the canoeing sessions already on offer.

December

While dredging work started in Swansea last month, news just out shows our commitment to bringing waterside heritage buildings back in to use as well. Contractors have just been appointed to start work on the massive £2.2 million Heritage Lottery-backed restoration project at Finslay Gate Wharf in Burnley to transform it into an attractive visitor destination and a hub of activity for the local community.

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How to get in touch over the Christmas holiday period

As with the rest of the country there’ll be a few days over the Christmas period when we’ll be taking a short break.

While our offices will be closed from 25 Dec to 1 January we will still be on the end of the phone, 0303 040 4040, for routine enquiries during these times:

  • Monday 23 December 8am – 9pm
  • Tuesday 24 December – 9am – 4pm
  • Wednesday 25 December – Closed
  • Thursday 26 December – Closed
  • Friday 27 December – 8.30am – 5pm
  • Saturday 28 December – 8.30am – 5pm
  • Sunday 29 December – 9am-5pm
  • Monday 30 December – 8am-6pm
  • Tuesday 31 December – 9am-4pm
  • Wednesday 1 January – Closed
  • Thursday 2 January 8am-9pm
  • Friday 3 January 8am-9pm

Sometimes emergency situations do arise. If at any point there’s any risk to life, risk of serious injury or illness or fires or an explosion on a boat then you should immediately call 999. The same goes if properties are at risk or a crime has been committed.

When the situation is urgent, but not one for the emergency services - please call our 24-hour emergency contact number 0800 47 999 47. Some examples of when you should use this number are:

  • If you come across a dangerously damaged bridge, lock or tunnel
  • A boat is trapped in a dangerous situation e.g. on a weir or a lock
  • A boat is causing a dangerous navigational hazard
  • There is serious flooding or a breach which risks lives or property
  • Serious pollution

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Maintenance, repair and restoration work affecting cruising this weekend

As someone who’s out on, or by, the water more often than most you’ll know that there are times when we need to fix things that unexpectedly break. So, below, you’ll find a list of anything that’s happening that may affect you if you’re planning on a cruise this weekend.

Below you’ll find, by canal or river, those that may affect your plans this weekend. It’s a long list due to the winter stoppage programme, where we carry out major projects when it’s quieter out on the cut:

When any restrictions to navigation happen, we get them up on to our website as soon as we can – always best to have a scan before you set off for a cruise. The tech savvy among you may already know that you can set up your smartphone to notify you if a notice is issued for a canal or river that you’re interested in. For those that didn’t know, check out this guide to setting it up.

If you have any questions about a specific closure then just get in touch.

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Merry Christmas and happy boating,

Damian

Last date edited: 13 December 2019

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The boaters' update

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