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The charity making life better by water

Regional Round Up North – May 2023

We’re back to bring you all the latest news, views and insights from a canal or river near you. This time, we’re taking a closer look at a new towpath improvement initiative in the East Midlands, celebrating the opening of a waterfront park in West Yorkshire, and seeing how a dazzling light display has reinvigorated a historic lock in Manchester.

Creating cleaner, greener spaces in the East Midlands

Over the last few years, we've been working closely with UK charity, Sustrans, to create a network of traffic-free paths connecting towns and cities across the UK. The initiative, dubbed ‘Paths for Everyone', aims to provide safe, green spaces where people can enjoy fresh air and exercise away from the noise and pollution of motor traffic. So far, we've broken ground on two joint projects across the East Midlands, making vital improvements to towpaths in Swarkestone and Market Harborough.

A small group of people by the canal, two with bicycles

In Swarkestone, work is well underway to revamp a historic two-and-a-half kilometre stretch of towpath along the Trent & Mersey Canal. In Market Harborough, work has begun on a notoriously muddy section of towpath along the Grand Union Canal, to make it suitable for visitors all year round.

But our work to improve towpaths in the East Midlands doesn't end there. In nearby Loughborough, the first phase of improvements on a section of the River Soar towpath have just been completed, thanks to £885,000 of funding from Loughborough's Town Deal. The works include improvements to moorings and water points on the riverside to encourage more boaters to stop off in the town.

Projects like these are vital for people's health, welfare and wellbeing, providing green spaces for millions, right on their doorstep. We'll continue to work with partners in local councils and charities like Sustrans, up and down the country, to improve towpaths and mooring points across the entire network and make a difference in people's lives.

West Yorkshire waterfront park makes a big splash

Last month, visitors got their first taste of an eye-catching new 230-metre-long waterfront park in Leeds. Whitehall Riverside Pocket Park, situated between the River Aire and the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, launched with a free family fun day.

View of a riverside park with people walking

Once neglected and overgrown, today the waterfront at Whitehall Riverside Pocket Park is a haven for wildlife and a welcome retreat from the chaos of modern life. The footpath hugs the water's edge, weaving through the heart of the city, surrounded by trees, wildflowers, grassland and seasonal plants.

To mark the opening of the park, our free family fun day treated local residents to an array of exciting activities. Visitors were invited to explore the park's native species with an eye-opening “Walk and Hunt for Wildlife” activity. Gardening enthusiasts got the chance to make their own seed bombs, and, for those eager to brave the chilly water, we organised some canoeing taster sessions.

In the long run, the park will help to increase biodiversity within the city centre and encourage more and more people to enjoy the countless benefits of being by water.

Shining a light on the Rochdale Canal

A series of dazzling light displays has transformed a stretch of the Rochdale Canal in central Manchester. Lock 85, known locally as the ‘Undercroft', was lit up in a kaleidoscope of colours as part of a much-appreciated facelift.

Lit up canal tunnel

Unfortunately, over the years, the Undercroft, which passes beneath Piccadilly in central Manchester, has fallen into disuse and disrepair, and was seen by many as undesirable and even unsafe. Along with vital repairs this winter, we decided to give the site a cultural makeover.

The first job was to drain the lock, which revealed a carpet of litter, with discarded bikes, shopping trolleys and traffic cones.

We quickly organised a volunteer-led clean-up operation, and the community came out in force. Once the site was cleared, we were able to complete our repairs, restoring the 200-year-old walls and replacing the old time-expired lock gates with new handcrafted gates from our specialist workshop.

We reopened the lock with a string of breathtaking light displays, illuminating the tunnel and delighting visitors with a striking array of colours and effects.

By hosting these transformative one-off events and literally shining a light on this beautiful, historic lock, we hope to alter people's perceptions of this underused and unloved space. To find out more about the work we've done this year, and hear more about our vision for the future of the Undercroft, take part in our virtual open day and watch other videos about the project.

Last Edited: 28 April 2023

photo of a location on the canals
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