We’re turning unloved spaces alongside canals into beautiful places, with the help of local artists and community groups across the country.
Cleaning up antisocial graffiti and repairing the damage it causes in the areas around our canals and rivers costs us about £1 million per year. It’s particularly difficult in cities, where bridges, buildings and boundary walls are often targeted. Together with communities, we’ve come up with a creative solution to help put colour and life back into vandalised spaces.
We’re creating a national street art trail on our urban canals. We hope it will encourage people to use some of these less-visited stretches and enjoy the work of local artists. The art not only replaces the antisocial graffiti, but also represents the different people who make up the local community and their stories.
Sheffield has been used a trial for the project, because we’ve been working there for the last three years with local street artist Affix. He’s painted pieces for us at Victoria Quays and under the railway bridge near Cadman Street. With 2019 being the 200th anniversary of the Sheffield & Tinsley Canal, it seemed the perfect time to expand the project, taking on a much bigger space and including more artists.
Funding from players of the People’s Postcode Lottery gave us the opportunity to commission a local arts collective, Concrete Canvas, who brought together the artists and planned the creation of the pieces. They teamed up with Jade Wilkes from our regional team, who meets community groups and discovers how we can work with them.
During the city’s annual Waterfront Festival in September we had 13 street artists painting at Attercliffe, covering a long wall facing the canal. Walkers, cyclists and boaters stopped to talk to the artists and find out more about their designs.
Affix added to his artwork at the new community orchard space along the towpath. We also worked with local LGBTQ+ group SayIT to produce a mural that can be viewed from the towpath opposite Victoria Boatyard.
Art needs to be publicly accessible. It’s not often that people see an artist and can put a face to a painting. When that happens it’s just a wonderful thing.Affix
Skeg was another artist painting for us on the day. “The art trail is bringing people to this part of the city, who wouldn’t normally come here,” he said. “It’s engaging people in arts. Maybe somebody will see what we’ve done and it might spark something in them. All of a sudden you’ve got a new artist.”
There are lots more plans for Sheffield in the near future to involve local people in creating canalside art. We’re working with disability support groups, youth sports groups, and an Afro-Caribbean community group who are planning a piece of art themed around the arrival of the Windrush generation.
Sadly these plans have had to be put on hold for the time being because of coronavirus restrictions. However, there will be a schools competition later in the year to design a new 2m2 piece of art for a canal-facing wall belonging to local business Special Steel. Teachers have been in touch to let us know that their students are using time at home during lockdown to prepare their entries.
Other cities, including Oxford, London, Leicester, Coventry and Birmingham, already have some street art along their canals, so we’ll include these in our overall national trail. New art will be added too, in new city locations. We’re planning an interactive map for our website that will allow you to search for your nearest part of the trail.
All of the street art we’re commissioning is led by and created by local communities, so if you’d like to get involved, keep an eye on our website for more details later in the year.
Photos: Sheffield Waterfront festival by Hannah Ali, all others by the street artists and Canal & River Trust staff
Last date edited: 22 December 2020