Blue and Buoyant

Things are looking up for Leicester as we work with local partners to improve the wonderful blue ribbon of waterways that run right through the heart of the city.

A tarmac path leads past canal lock gates surrounded by grass and vegetation An escape from the city to wonderful countryside

Leicester is bringing its local canal and river back to life. A whole host of improvements have been made including new moorings for boaters, improved towpaths and access points, as well as more connections to green space and leisure attractions. It’s giving over 117,000 people, who live within just 1km of the Leicester Arm of the Grand Union Canal, the chance to enjoy a day out by water in their own backyard.

There’s something for everyone to enjoy along ten long miles of blue and green space through the city. The magnificent Straight Mile in the city centre is a rowing stretch to rival anything that Cambridge or Oxford has to offer. And the waterside King Power Stadium leads local people on towards the countryside beyond the southern city limits.

As East Midlands enterprise manager, Alan Leather is keen to point out, the improvements in Leicester’s waterways have been a real team effort. Much of the funding has come from the Local Growth Fund after our successful joint bid with the Leicester & Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership and Leicester City Council.

 

A hard surface towpath and canal leads away from the viewer

 

“Everyone is working towards a new vision for Leicester’s waterways that seeks to attract more boaters to linger in the city; more walkers to the towpath routes to wonderful green spaces to the north and south, and more cyclists and runners to wide towpaths that can be easily shared.

Together, we’re creating a clean, green and active way to commute into the city for work or wander out into the surrounding countryside for leisure time.”

Enjoy ten miles of blue and green space through the city.

Crucially, the improvement works also link to local leisure attractions, helping to bring prosperity to the city too. Alan explains: “Once you get a few hundred metres south of the Straight Mile, the whole nature of the canal changes and it becomes quite rural.

There’s this great circular walk, starting on the canal from opposite the football ground at Freeman's Meadow Lock, past Aylestone Meadows nature reserve, right down to Blue Bank Lock and Bank Bridge. Then you’re five-minutes’ walk from Everards Meadow in one direction, where there’s now a brewery with a bar, a coffee shop and a bike hire shop. And in the other direction the walk continues onto what’s known as the Great Central Way. It’s an old railway line, that’s now a Sustrans cycling and walking route taking you back into the city centre.”

As Alan says, the new towpath improvements the partnership in Leicester have put in have really helped to boost the number of people spending time on the canal: “From what was probably a fairly quiet area, there is now a constant line of people, going over our improved bridge and out for some fresh air.”

A map showing many attractions along the Leicester arm of the Grand Union Canal

Among the many people exploring the canal and the surrounding countryside are local children, thanks to the community-wide initiative ‘Beat the Street’. This outdoor game, delivered in partnership with the city’s public health team, encourages youngsters and their families to walk the local canals towards other local parks and green spaces nearby.

The children carry cards that they can swipe on ‘Beat the Street’ boxes along the route to earn points in the game. It’s a great way to get kids and their families outside and walking, and as you can see from these figures, it certainly seems to have gone down a storm in the local area.

Beat the Street in Numbers

18 boxes on the canal network

94 schools taking part

40,461 players

36,232 swipes on canal boxes

473 children given a presentation on water safety

Our partnership in Leicester has also created new visitor moorings near the Blue Bank Bridge, giving visiting boaters the opportunity to moor up and explore the local attractions. Further moorings with electric hook-ups, water points and waste facilities at the historic Memory Lane Wharf, near the city centre, are also nearing completion to help boaters safely stop off and explore the city. 

A narrowboat passes along the canal on a sunny day with the city in the background Helping visiting boaters to stop off and explore

As Alan sees it, boaters are a vital ingredient in bringing life to Leicester’s canals:

“It’s probably fair to say that there’s a long-held perception among boaters that Leicester is somewhere, not to stop, but to get through. We’re trying to change that view through these moorings. It would be great to get more boaters staying in the city. Boats add colour and life to our waterways, but they also help to give the local economy a boost as people stop off to visit local shops, pubs and attractions.”

With all these improvements, local interest in the canal is growing, with over ten different volunteer groups getting involved and starting to litter-pick and improve the local towpath or create community gardens.

Others are running, rowing, paddleboarding, enjoying canoeing sessions or involving local people in creating a gallery of street art along the previously unloved stretches of the canal. With more and more diverse communities exploring the canals on their doorstep, there’s also excitement building for a huge Diwali celebration by water this year, now that pandemic restrictions are easing.

So, in small steps, Leicester’s canals are becoming bluer and more buoyant than ever. And it’s a story that thanks to your support, and everyone who is helping #ActNowForCanals, we’re hoping to repeat right across England and Wales in the months and years to come.

Last date edited: 22 September 2021

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