Hear from John Highmore, our Volunteer Development Coordinator in the South East and what's been achieved with volunteers tackling the graffiti along the Oxford Canal.
The centre of Oxford marks the southernmost nexus of the Oxford Canal and the point where it joins the River Thames. As with many urban areas, this locality unfortunately suffers from a significant problem with graffiti. This particular issue is not restricted to the housing estates or industrial areas of Oxford; inevitably, the canalside environment is affected too.
Following a series of site visits to Isis Lock which took place in the autumn of 2014, the Canal & River Trust’s Heritage and Environmental departments worked in conjunction with the South East Waterway’s Volunteering Team to investigate possible solutions to this problem. An updated Graffiti Removal Policy was subsequently drawn up, and practical input was then welcomed from local volunteers who were eager to tackle the issue.
A group of local residents duly dubbed themselves the ‘Friends of Isis Lock’ and the team’s inaugural task day took place in the centre of Oxford on 29th September 2014. Their aim on this occasion was to remove the unsightly graffiti which was disfiguring the lock beams, the bridge and surrounding structures at Isis Lock.
A suitable method for removal of the graffiti was required, which would incur minimal damage to any of the structures. Whereas the wooden beams and fenceposts could simply be re-painted, the heritage brickwork needed to be scrubbed by hand with environmentally friendly ‘Graff Off’ materials. A pressure-washer could not be used in this instance, in case it might cause harm to the bricks or to the lime-mortars which form part of the bridge’s fabric.
The manual method of removing graffiti is physically tough and time-consuming, so a huge measure of credit is due to Tony Buley, Tom Hassall and their fellow volunteers for their perseverance throughout the duration of this task. The group’s intentions were to revisit the site during October 2014, to make further inroads into the removal of this troublesome graffiti.
Accordingly, the group’s next visit to Isis Lock took place on 7 October 2014, when the volunteers assembled for another day of ‘scrubbing and scraping’. Ably assisted by local Trust Customer Operations team member Diana Loureiro, everyone put in a great effort in cleaning up the brickwork at the site – plus the ironwork on the bridge, the lock beams, benches and lifebouys.
Mid-way through November, the same dedicated band of volunteers returned to Isis Bridge to tackle the residual graffiti at that location. Although some traces of graffiti inevitably remained at the site afterwards (it is notoriously difficult to remove in its entirety), the volunteers’ efforts in addressing this blight were much admired within the local community; indeed, an account of their valiant efforts in tackling graffiti appeared in the ‘Oxford Mail’ newspaper shortly afterwards.
April 2015 saw three separate volunteering groups venture forth in Oxford city centre: one which again focused its attentions on the area surrounding Isis Lock; a new group which was assembled by Cllr. Liz Wade, who chose to remove offensive graffiti from Aristotle Bridge; and a third team (led by local resident, Imogen Olsen) which made a big difference to the brick abutments and railings on Frenchay Bridge.
Although graffiti remains a persistent, recurring problem in Oxford (as it does in other cities throughout the UK and elsewhere), the massive strides which have been taken by local volunteers in recent months to address the issue can only point towards a promising future for the Oxford Canal and its environs. In addition to the continued use of ‘Graff-Off’ materials, future plans for the area will hopefully allow volunteers to assist the Canal & River Trust with the application of anti-graffiti paint on certain structures.
Thanks and best wishes are due to everyone who has played their part so far; we look forward to celebrating many more successful volunteering achievements in Oxford in the near future.
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