It’s been a challenging New Year on our waterways with coronavirus restrictions limiting boating activity and reducing the amount of volunteering that can take place. With the difficult start to the year we’re keeping things positive and taking the opportunity to have a look at some of the things we’re (cautiously) looking forward to in 2021.
Reopening of the Canal Museum at Stoke Bruerne
The plans for the museum, which has been temporarily closed since October, include installing a new kitchen to provide a wider food offer using locally sourced produce, creating a more bespoke retail range and reimagining exhibition spaces making the whole building an immersive canal experience at the heart of its local community.
Building works have started this month with the transformation expected to be completed by Easter.
Alongside the physical transformation, work is going in to planning for reopening and relaunching the museum. A three-year locally-themed interpretation plan has been put together to celebrate the story of Stoke Bruerne and engage with a wide range of audiences. A marketing plan is also being developed to promote the opening and encourage people to visit.
In order to ensure the best possible experience for those visiting the museum, a visitor services manager is being recruited. In addition, a new digital media volunteer will help to share what's happening at the museum via social media.
Later in the year we hope to submit a National Lottery Heritage Fund bid to develop the current learning centre into a community focussed space for learning, workshops, events, children's birthday parties and much more, along with a development plan to enhance the wider site.
Celebrations on the Grantham Canal
We're busy making plans to officially celebrate the completion of two very different restoration projects on the Grantham Canal.
The first is the restoration of a 19th Century worker's hut at Hickling which was built as a place for lengthsmen, who cared for the canal, to store tools and shelter from the elements. The hut is mostly built from wooden railway sleepers which would have been readily available when the canal was owned by the railways. Over time these sleepers had rotted and most of the hut had been enveloped inside a hedgerow.
Over the past two years the Trust's skilled teams, heritage apprentices and volunteers have breathed new life into the whole building, restoring the sleepers, relaying the historic brick floor and topping it all off with a new roof. The hut is due to be adopted by residents of Hickling and a garden created beside it.
There are also plans to officially reopen Lock 14 on the Grantham Canal which has been brought back into working use by volunteers. The restoration, which has been carried out in partnership with Grantham Canal Society and with support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, has seen volunteers painstakingly rebuild the lock brick by brick before new oak lock gates were lifted into position.
Sadly covid restrictions mean that both celebrations will be more low-key than they would otherwise have been but each will provide an important opportunity to recognise these two incredible achievements.
Welcoming back our volunteers
Last year was a particularly difficult time for our volunteers who, for parts of the year, were unable to get out on the waterways they love and care for.
Volunteering on our waterways is incredibly rewarding, not just because it's an opportunity to make a place better for local people, but it's also a great social occasion and a chance to catch up with friends.
Under the current lockdown volunteering is limited to those tasks which are vital to the operation of our waterways but over time, as restrictions ease we're looking forward to welcoming back existing volunteers and working with new ones on an even broader range of roles – including Towpath Rangers, events volunteers, walk leaders and reward & recognition volunteers.
For now volunteering remains limited but in the meantime volunteers and task managers are asked to make sure that they're up to date with recording hours. We'll be keeping in touch with all of our volunteers over the coming weeks and look forward to seeing them back out on the towpath as soon as possible.
Improving habitats for wildlife
The year is already starting off on a positive note for wildlife with two projects aimed at improving habitats in the region under way.
The first will see us clearing reed growth in parts of the Grantham Canal, aiding water flow - which has been a problem in some areas in recent years - and improving conditions for fish, dragonflies and other aquatic plants.
The works will involve clearing a channel down the middle of the canal and will be taking place at a number of locations including Kinoulton, Hickling, Cotgrave, Gamston and Lady Bay. The works are due to be finished by mid-February, ahead of bird nesting season.
Elsewhere, a project has also been taking place to improve fish habitats on the River Witham. As part of remediation measures following a major pollution incident in March 2018 more than a hundred new fish refuges have been installed on some of our floating mooring pontoons at sites including Bardney, Tattershall and Antons Gowt.
The refuges look like giant scrubbing brushes with long green bristles which fish can shelter within. Habitats for fish on the Witham are limited and, working with the Environment Agency and specialist contractors MEM Fisheries, we're pleased to see these important safe havens in position.
Efforts to improve and increase habitats along our waterways will continue throughout the year whether that be clearing reeds, installing fish refuges, laying hedgerows or, as we're doing at Trent Lock, creating canalside gardens for people to stop and spend time by the water.
Bringing some colour to the Nottingham Beeston Canal
We're working with Nottingham City Council and The Nottingham Project on a street art project that will brighten up some of the most drab walls along the Nottingham Beeston Canal.
The aim of the project is to make the canal a more attractive, welcoming space and, in doing so, encourage more people to enjoy some time by the water. The artworks, which will celebrate all that's great about Nottingham, will bring some much-needed colour to the canal as well as help people to find their way around.
It follows a similar project in Leicester which has seen six artworks celebrating the city's waterways, its industrial and sporting heritage and its ecology, created at key sites.
The Nottingham street art project is one of the first things to come out of the new Nottingham Canal Improvement Partnership. One of the key activities in the coming weeks will be speaking to local communities to get their thoughts and ideas on what the pieces of art could capture. It's hoped that the first pieces could start to take shape in the spring.
Meeting new faces
Most of all we're looking forward to meeting and working with some new faces and getting more people involved with their local canal or river – perhaps for the first time.
In Nottingham, we'll be launching an ‘Isolation to Inclusion' project which aims to combat social isolation and loneliness. The project, which has received funding from the European Regional Development Fund, aims to use canal-based activities to address loneliness and social isolation amongst people of all ages.
The specific activities will be designed to meet the needs of the local community but could include creating community gardens, improving habitats for wildlife, arts programmes, sports sessions such as angling or paddleboarding, and community events.
In Leicester, we'll be launching our Waterways Kickstarters roles which will give young people in the city the chance to boost their skills and employability by applying for a six-month paid placement with the Trust.
The placements are part of a £2bn government scheme, funded by the Department for Work and Pensions, and are available to 16-24 year olds who are on Universal Credit. Recruitment for the roles has been slightly delayed by covid but we hope to be able to advertise them locally very soon. There will be 22 placements in Leicester, spread across two teams – waterways and construction.
Alongside these projects we'll also be working to engage with new audiences as part of our Community Roots project in Leicester, pitching to work with young people through the National Citizenship Service in a number of areas along with a whole host of local community engagement events and activities.
Last Edited: 27 January 2021
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