Boaters' Update 18 December 2020

Welcome to the last edition of 2020. In it, along with the usual routine round-up of news and stoppages, you'll find a message from chief exec, Richard Parry, a roundup of what's happening in your region and much more besides.

Sunrise on a snowy canal Sunrise on a snowy canal

Welcome to the last edition of 2020. For the last few years the final edition has looked back over the last twelve months at the stories and events that have shaped the world of boating. Sadly, one shadow has loomed large over every aspect of our lives for the majority therefore this edition is slightly different from previous years.

You’ll find a message from chief exec Richard Parry, a curious, and statistical, delve into the past year’s content - can you guess which five words have featured most frequently in Boaters’ Update (excluding verbs!)? You can also read about what’s going on in your region - what we’ve been up to with our winter stoppage programme, what we’re doing in the new year and how to get in touch with us over the festive period. In the final article, the West Midlands team, reflect on how they’ve been able to help boaters throughout this most challenging of years.

As always, the routine round-up of news and stoppages can also be found below.

If you do plan on visiting your boat over the festive period do please bear in mind that there are regular reviews, such as earlier this week, of which regions fall in to which tiers so it’s a good idea to check the latest information before planning a visit to your boat. In the last edition you’ll find out what this means for boating.

Don’t forget that the consultation about boat licence terms and conditions closes soon (21 Dec). If you haven’t already, you can have your say by visiting our website.  

If there’s something you’d like to see featured in a future edition, please get in touch.

Merry Christmas,

Damian

In this edition:

News round-up

Recently you may have seen that:

  • 7 Dec – Richard Parry, chief exec, was interviewed on the BBC investigative documentary programme, Panorama, about the impact of climate change on our canals, rivers and other waterway infrastructure.
  • 11 Dec – We have secured government support to create dozens of opportunities in heritage repair and construction, and waterways management, for young people, funded by the Department for Work and Pensions.
  • 16 Dec – Harthill Reservoir in South Yorkshire is to be given a £5 million upgrade.

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A message from the Trust’s chief exec, Richard Parry

I’d like to offer seasonal greetings to all readers of Boaters' Update.

Richard Parry, chief executiveAs we reach the end of any given year, we often reflect on the challenges we’ve faced, but this year would undoubtedly pass any measure of difficulty.  Indeed, it’s hard to look back at 2020 with anything other than relief that it’s coming to an end.  I know some of you will have suffered directly from the impact of the virus and my sympathies go out to anyone who’s lost someone close to them.

At the very least, I imagine all of you will have had your boating plans disrupted, notwithstanding the efforts that our local operations teams have made to keep the network safe and available and to provide support to boaters. We’ve kept up our work throughout the year, despite the necessary restrictions we have faced as we have sought to minimise and mitigate risks to our colleagues and customers. I hope that, in the periods of the year when navigation has been possible, you have been able to enjoy some of what our amazing waterways have to offer. 

As we eagerly anticipate the slow roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccination programme, we can begin to turn our thoughts to 2021 with cautious optimism that, in the year ahead, society might gradually return to something closer to normal – and hopefully boating can resume its normal pattern too.  We hope also that our work with local communities can also resume, to strengthen our connections and grow the support that our future sustainability depends upon.

We know how important your support is, and we’ll continue to do all we can to put your needs at the centre of our plans.  For now, let me wish you all a Merry and Covid-secure Christmas, and the very best for 2021

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What’s in a word?

28 editions, containing 64,182 words, have made up this year’s Boaters’ Updates. Unsurprisingly there’s one prominent word in the cloud below that none of us would have predicted – coronavirus.

Word cloud 2020

Also lurking somewhere in that word cloud are ‘lockdown’ and ‘restrictions’ – both appeared 52 times during the course of the year. In terms of sheer number of appearances though, excluding verbs and adverbs, the top five are reassuringly boaty:

  1. 820 – boat/boats/boating/boaters
  2. 672 – Canal/canal/canals
  3. 247 – water
  4. 163 – waterways
  5. 113 - towpath

Let’s hope next year’s is exclusively boaty!

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What’s happening in your region?

Given the year we’ve just had it would be foolish, at least with any certainty, to predict what 2021 has in store for us. What you’ll find below though is what we plan to do in your region early next year if the current circumstances continue roughly as they are. You’ll also be able to read what we’ve been up to in the early stages of this year’s winter stoppage programme and any other information that you might need to know if you plan on boating over the festive period.

As you may expect there’s a reduced customer service presence over the festive period but you will still be able to get in touch with us. Contact should be as normal up until Christmas Eve and then from 4 January.

From Christmas Day until 3 January urgent enquiries can be made to our customer service line on 0303 040 4040, non-urgent enquiries can be sent by email (regional addresses below) or our contact form for when we return on 4 January. You may also be able to contact us via our website’s online chat (dependent on volume of enquiries).

In an emergency please contact 0800 47 999 47 or the emergency services on 999.   We will have staff on-call to deal with out of hours emergencies, whilst inn normal working hours, we will have a skeleton operation teams in place for each region to deal with urgent repairs.

Now for the regional detail… Use the links below to jump to your region:

London & South East

Early next year you’ll find us:

  • Replacing the top and bottom gates of Lock 51 Gas Lock on the Cheshunt LockGrand Union Canal together with brickwork repairs and leak prevention repairs.
  • Replacing the top and bottom gates of Lock 44 Dukes Lock on the Oxford Canal, along with brickwork and coping stone repairs as well as abutment repairs to Bridge 233 (Wolvercote Lift Bridge) and preparatory works for its mechanisation.

You may have seen us:

  • Replacing the top and bottom gates of Lock 9 Cheshunt Lock on the Lee Navigation (see photo above right). 
  • Northbrook LockReplacing the bottom gate, extending lock ladders and repairing the brickwork of Lock 38 Northbrook Lock on the Oxford Canal (see photo below right). 

North West

Early next year you’ll find us:

You may have seen us:

Wales & South West

Early next year you’ll find us:

  • Installing a temporary fabric dam at the bottom end of Lock 14, Bradford On Avon, on the Kennet & Avon Canal, to allow draining of the lock chamber and pump intake chambers so that we can carry out repairs to the pump intake chamber, sluice and trash screen grills. Work on the pumps at Seend and Wootton will also be undertaken.
  • Carrying out multiple repairs on the Caen Hill Flight of the Kennet & Avon Canal including relining and repairing gates and repairs and improvements to the pumping station.

You may have seen us:

  • Replacing the top and bottom gates at Lock 64, Lower Lock, Cwmcrawnon on the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal.
  • Doing additional dredging at Wootton Rivers Pumping Station along with the production of two new sets of stop planks – all to improve pump performance and make maintenance easier in the future.

Special thanks go to the team of volunteers who’ve been restoring the flow of water to a canal feeder (leat) that carries water from Crofton Pumping Station almost one mile away to the summit level of the Kennet & Avon Canal. The feeder has over the years become choked and clogged with reeds restricting the flow of water to the summit level at Crofton Top Lock where it enters the canal to maintain the water level.

East Midlands

North Kilworth beforeEarly next year you’ll find us:

  • Continuing with the refurbishment of the existing operating system for the guillotine gate arrangement at Stamp End Lock, Lincoln, on the River Witham. After removal, stripping down and inspection, it was found the lock gate mechanism requires much more extensive refurbishment work so this particular project now continues until early February.
  • Replacing the top and bottom gates of Stanton Gate Lock on the North Kilworth afterErewash Canal.

You may have seen us:

  • Repairing damaged masonry on Bridge 43, North Kilworth, on the Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal. See before and after photos above right.
  • Working on an urgent stoppage, to reduce leakage, at Lock 10, Long Buckby Lock of the Grand Long Buckby beforeUnion Canal.  When drained though we found that the cill and surrounding concrete on the lower gate were in much worse condition than expected so we took the opportunity to replace the cill and concrete to reduce the risk of having to do further repairs next year. See before and after photos right and below.

As there are a number of rivers in this region please do keep an eye on our strong stream warnings webpage as well as stoppages in case we have to shut flood locks at short notice.

Long Buckby afterIf you have a non-urgent enquiry or suggestion please get in touch via enquiries.emidlands@canalrivertrust.org.uk  and we’ll get back to you as soon we can after our return on 4 January.

Yorkshire & North East

Early next year you’ll find us:

You may have seen us:

A date for your diary – the online local user forum is taking place on 12 January and, if you boat in the region, the local team would love as many of you to join as possible. More details will be published on our website nearer the time.

If you have a non-urgent enquiry or suggestion please get in touch via enquiries.yorkshirenortheast@canalrivertrust.org.uk and we’ll get back to you as soon we can after our return on 4 January.

West Midlands

Early next year you’ll find us:

You may have seen us:

  • Replacing the top and bottom gates, making ladder improvements, brickwork repairs and installing bollards at Lock 3, Ashtead, on the Digbeth Branch of the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal.
  • Refitting the top gate and brickwork repairs, replacing the top gate and repairs to the copings and quoins at Lock 33 and Lock 35 respectively at Yarningale Common on the South Stratford Canal.

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A year of helping boaters in the West Midlands

The above article provides an insight into the vast range of things we’ve been doing, and will do, to help your boating experience be the best it can in 2021. What it doesn’t do though is touch on the less mechanical things we’ve been doing to help boaters. Thankfully, Tom Freeland, boating and customer service manager for the West Midlands region, picked up the gauntlet and explains what happened in the West Midlands this year:

“2020 has been a year like no other, but here in the West Midlands the Canal & River Trust have been as focused as ever on planning for and responding to our customers’ needs.  Here are a small selection of the ways we’ve helped boaters this year:

February – Annual Public Meeting

Over 80 people joined us at Stafford on 27 February, including representatives from strategic and community partner organisations and the general public, to enjoy talks from Clive Henderson of Staffordshire County Council, Roger Savage from Staffordshire Waterways Group, Richard Parry, Trust chief exec  and Julie Sharman, Trust chief operating officer, before a Q&A session hosted by Regional Advisory Board chair John Hudson. 

March – Licence support in action

A continuous cruiser wrote in to commend “the professionalism and compassion” of Licence Support Officer Glyn Bumford.  After ten pleasurable years afloat, a family health crisis meant they needed his support so they could focus on treatment rather than worrying about moorings and movement. They told us that “Over the course of the last year Glyn has gone above and beyond the call of duty; whilst performing his role, and demonstrated a level of empathy, care and engagement that I would never have expected.”

April & May – Lockdown care

As Britain went into lockdown, our reduced teams focused on core services to support those living on the waterways: keeping our customer service facilities open and making them Covid-secure, and looking out for and supporting vulnerable boaters, helped by partners such as the Waterways Chaplains.

June – Getting back to boating

As restrictions eased, and boaters began to return to boats and start moving again, our operations teams worked hard to get the system back ready for the resumption of full boat movement.  This required some creative responses to unexpected challenges, such as lining dried-out and porous lock gates with geotextile to reduce leakage.  We also pulled out the stops to respond to a growing number of enquiries with reduced staff, including providing additional cover at weekends.

July – Keeping system moving

With record levels of recreational and hire boaters out on the canals, we needed to move quickly to sort unexpected problems. On the Coventry Canal, our Reactive Response team had a call at about 2.30pm on a Thursday saying that the bottom end towpath beam on lock 11 Atherstone had snapped. On site, the team quickly decided to put a brace on it, and put in an urgent order; they built the brace in the yard on Friday morning, and had it fitted on the lock by 3.30pm. With 15 boats waiting to go through the lock by the time they were finished, all the boaters were happy that it was fixed in a quick time, so much so that they even let a hire boat jump the queue because they had to be back at Rugby for 10.00am on Saturday morning!

August – volunteers are back

Volunteers missed their time on the canals as much as anyone and we were delighted to welcome them back over the summer to Towpath Taskforces, Welcome Stations and more.  Volunteer Lock Keepers have been back out on most of our lock flights since July, and it’s never been a busier time for them, with boat numbers higher than ever, and many of the people who discovered the canals for the first time in lockdown still out and about.  Here’s a tale of VLK life from Hatton regular Graham Tranter:

Another cracking day VLK'ing at Hatton on the Grand Union in Warwickshire. Around 15 boats through the full 21 lock flight, including a pair of GRP boats, a couple of Kate Boats, 3 or 4 ABC Boats, as well as the usual owner boats. The weather was kind to us with sunny intervals (but not too hot). And, right at the end of the day, a twist in the tail: a member of the public came up and said that her grandson's scooter had run away from him and gone into the canal (thankfully, without her grandson aboard)! An hour of throwing in the grappling hook & magnet line later, and finally success, her grandson's scooter was recovered!  A really positive end to the shift.

September – maintaining navigation

If you’ve been out along the Walsall Canal recently you’ve probably noticed how great it’s looking! Aaron Atwal and team have been working with the Rothen Group to remove overgrown reeds and weeds from the canal. We’ve used a very nifty floating tractor/lawnmower type machine to do this. The machine essentially scoops up the weed and removes it from the canal. Now that the majority of the weed has been removed, it should make boating much easier and you will spend less time clearing out your weed hatches.

October - On call for our customers

We took a weekend call from a hire boat stuck at Camp Hill locks in Birmingham. Unfamiliar with the area, facing low water levels and bad weather, the family aboard were struggling to get through the locks and moor up somewhere safe. Our on-call team attended and stayed with the customers to make sure they safely passed through all the locks and moored up safely by a waterpoint overnight; the customers were very happy with the experience and great service they got from our team.

December and beyond – preparing for next year

We’re working hard to repair our locks and deliver other priority works over the winter, so we’re ready to welcome boaters and all our customers in 2021.  We do hope you enjoy your time cruising the waterways of the West Midlands next year.

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Maintenance, repair and restoration work 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 to make a journey this weekend:

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. 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.

We’ve also improved the stoppages mapping and resolved an issue where the historic notices appeared on the canal maps.  However, the best way to check for stoppages that might affect your cruising plans is via our stoppage notices webpage.

If you have any questions about a specific closure, or spot an error in our system, please just get in touch.

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Last date edited: 18 December 2020

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