We love and care for your canals and rivers, because everyone deserves a place to escape.

News article created on 11 July 2013

Whose waterways are they anyway?

How do we ensure our fantastic canals and rivers are experienced by and open to all?

Earlier this week I attend the Canal and River Trust annual meeting at the National Waterway Museum at Ellesmere Port. There was a genuine buzz at the meeting and a view shared by many there that the Trust has achieved an enormous amount in a year and started to show real signs of a commitment to 'do things differently' from British Waterways.

For those on twitter you can see all of the comments that were being made by tweeters using the hash tag #CRTam (including me - @MatthewCRT), for those not on twitter you can see some of the tweets from people at the annual meeting here. There will also be information from the annual meeting on the Canal & River Trust website soon.

The division between those who tweet and those who don't was particularly relevant in relation to an issue discussed about how the Trust can reach out to and engage more diverse audiences in our work. Clearly from looking around the room at the meeting, the were not many younger people at the meeting and even fewer people from ethnic minority communities.

This in no way reflects on the dedicated volunteers and supporters who give hours of their time to support the canals and the work of the trust, but it does highlight a large untapped audience who could potentially be involved. The question is how do we appeal to them.

I was struck by one the figures quoted during the volunteering workshop. Around 44% of the UK population volunteer, when you break this down by age it remains pretty consistent until you get to over 75 years old (when most people have probably better things to do!). So put simply young people aged 16-25 and people from black and minority ethnic communities are just as likely to volunteer as the rest of the population - but clearly they are not volunteering for Trust at present. It gives us plenty to think about how we can engage more young and black and minority ethnic people in our work.

It's really important that our fantastic canals and rivers are open for everyone to enjoy - no matter what age, background or economic situation they are in, if there are barriers (real or perceived) that stop some from enjoying them then it's important that Canal & River Trust and others work to remove them.

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