Sometimes opportunities come along which are too good for you to let them pass by. I would class the workshop I attended in Birmingham last week as one of these opportunities so I thought you might like to hear all about it.
It was actually my manager who should have been there but fortunately for me (and her I suppose) she happened to be on holiday in Vietnam on the day of the workshop. She thought that it would be a good experience for me and asked if I would like to take her place. I jumped at the chance.
The venue was an industrial Victorian building which fronts the Grand Union Canal. Inside all the walls were whitewashed and then scattered with what I would describe as an ‘eclectic array’ of art. The many graphite drawings, paintings and photographs captured the industrial heritage of our canals and they beautifully opposed by an equal number of images depicting the wildlife and nature which exists beside and on the waterways. At times throughout the day I found my eyes being drawn back to one small, unassuming and quite abstract painting of a swan peacefully reflected in murky green water. I don’t really know why but I liked it, I guess that’s what art is all about.
The room was full of people I didn’t recognise at all, some who I recognised by name only alongside a few friendly faces. I thought to myself that this alone was a good opportunity, I could put some faces to names and meet some colleagues who I had only ever exchanged a few words with by email.
You should never undervalue how important these momentary meetings are, particularly if you happen to need some help from them in the future! Volunteer waterway partnership representatives were sitting beside employees of the Trust. We were all united by our cause and in this room, at this time we were all the same. It was true, we have changed and it is a good change. I thought to myself that I must remember this moment as a little piece of our future history in the making.
Simon Salem introduced the workshop. He spoke with true emotion, as did everyone who followed him throughout the day, about his personal connection with our waterways. It set the temperature perfectly. The day was about finding out why what we do matters, why we exist if you like. There were some very existential discussions led by our head of fundraising, Ruth Ruderham, who also gave us a truly astonishing account of why she is so passionate about working for the Trust. If you ever get the opportunity I suggest that you ask her, I simply couldn’t do her justice!
Walter Menzies, chair of Manchester & Pennine Waterway Partnership, talked to us about the progress of their partnership. He was inspirational and spoke with conviction about their purpose. It was obvious that they were already well established, had set themselves clear objectives and were on the right road (or navigation!) to achieving them. But he was also resolute that they would not let an opportunity pass them by, if one arose, just because they had not planned for it.
When he spoke I forgot that Walter was not actually employed by the Trust, that he did not work in our offices or on our Waterways full time. He was dedicated and determined that they would succeed in their ambitions. He was a perfect example of how much we can learn from the people who volunteer to work with us.
I suppose that if I were asked to reflect on the day I would say that I am more confident now that nearly a year down the line we are on the right course. We have an appetite for change, are more open to being open, we understand that there are people with amazing skills and experience who will happily give us their time and we understand that we need these people to be involved. We do not always get it right but we do know why it’s important that we learn to get it right. We must learn to express ourselves better, to tell you that we really do care about the future of our waterways and that if we didn’t we wouldn’t be here.
After everything we had discussed and debated throughout the day I couldn’t help but think that if the art hanging on these walls could speak maybe it would tell me how fragile existence is. How important it is that we do not let things crumble and decay until there is nothing left for our grandchildren to remember when they themselves are grandparents. That we are creating tomorrow’s history today. That we are creating tomorrow’s memories today.
Sarina joined us in 2008 as our customer services co-ordinator. Among other things, she manages our national customer service team, complaints procedure and requests for information made to the Trust. She says that the most important thing to her is to be able to go home and feel as though she’s achieved something, however small that might be. Her job is hugely satisfying, widely varied, full of deadlines, immensely interesting, sometimes challenging and no day is ever the same, although some are surprisingly familiar!See more blogs from this author