The charity making life better by water

Commonwealth games by canal

Just as our canals helped shape the city of Birmingham during the industrial revolution over 200 years ago, canals have helped the city redefine itself during this summer’s Commonwealth Games. From providing an active travel route to the games’ venues, to becoming a venue itself for a host of sporting, cultural and community events, the West Midlands canal network has been at the heart of celebrations that have attracted over four million people from all around the world to the city.

“There's a nod to canals, on the Games Collective uniform, plus the medals the winners wear,” says Ian Lane, our head of strategic projects and lead for the Commonwealth Games. “Canals even featured in the opening ceremony, so in every sense we were at the heart of the event and were very proud and honoured to play our part.”

Right from the beginning, canals had a role to play in helping people reach games venues by foot or two-wheels. The Tame Valley Canal runs right past Alexander Stadium, while the Main Line Canal connects the gymnastics at Birmingham Arena. Swimming and diving at the Aquatic centre in Sandwell is on the Old Main Line Canal and can be reached via Revolution Walk. The Worcester & Birmingham Canal also gave hockey fans a straight towpath to follow to the University venue, while the Coventry Canal offered an easy route to the Coventry Arena for rugby sevens, judo and wrestling.

In preparation for all these visitors, our team gave 22 miles of Birmingham canals a spruce up, joining our willing band of loyal existing volunteers in taking on our #plasticschallenge, including our friends from WASUP. Our ecology teams were also hard at work helping to bring more greenery into the heart of the city, as the first buds of our community orchard began to bear fruit.

With the canal stage set, we began to work with various parts of the Commonwealth Games programme to turn our towpaths into venues themselves. Building on our successful Let's! events, we became part of the Community Games which give city residents the chance to try sporting activities they might never have come across before. Canals offered kayaking, bellboating and paddleboarding on water, plus rowing and windsurfing on machines on land. There was also the chance to play cricket, hockey, tennis and try judo, running or orienteering.

And that's before we also became involved in Birmingham 2022 Festival, with a host of dance, art, heritage and community events taking place on canals across the city. A boating festival paraded through the city centre in June, while the Key to the City events unlocked hidden buildings and structures across the city, many of them on our towpaths.

It all culminated in the Queen's Baton Relay which led to the opening ceremony. The baton was carried across all 72 Commonwealth nations and territories over the last year, and all over the UK in the last few weeks before the games. In the West Midlands alone the relay was run along canals in Dudley, Smethwick, Solihull and central Birmingham, with our very own head of strategic projects, Ian Lane, and heritage advisor Elizabeth Thomson each running one of the legs.

Ultimately canals and the Commonwealth Games had so much in common. They both brought people together from around the city and across the world. They both aim to leave a legacy of health and wellbeing to the city. They both want to be a catalyst for change and simply make life better for the people of Birmingham and the wider West Midlands region.

Last Edited: 15 August 2022

photo of a location on the canals
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