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The charity making life better by water

Regional round-up - South

Back by popular demand, it’s our regional round-up, bringing you all the latest news from a canal or river near you. This time, we’re checking out some vital winter works in the West Midlands, catching up with volunteers in Berkshire, and exploring London Docklands through a lens.

Finding refuge on the Kennet & Avon Canal

A group of refugees have been helping us make vital improvements to parts of the Kennet & Avon Canal in Berkshire. The refugees, from Afghanistan, Syria, Iran and El Salvador, have teamed up with our local towpath taskforce to give Bull's Swing Bridge and Bull's Lock near Newbury a much-needed makeover.

Two people painting railings on the canal

It's all part of a community initiative to encourage newly arrived refugees to link up with the Trust. As well as giving us a helping hand to rejuvenate the canal, volunteers are getting an opportunity to immerse themselves in our culture and practice their English in a friendly, supportive environment.

As our community engagement manager, Caroline Kendall, says: “To have this group of participants being so keen to help in the local community, build their confidence in a new environment and learn new skills along the way is wonderful to see.”

Thanks to the team's hard work and dedication, the swing bridge and lock, situated between Newbury and Thatcham, have been transformed, given a fresh lick of paint and rid of unsightly graffiti. And they're not finished there. With the work complete, the team are moving swiftly on to a nearby footbridge, also in need of a revamp.

Volunteers have always been the beating heart of the Trust, and without their boundless energy, skill and expertise, we simply couldn't operate. We're always looking for new recruits to bolster our ranks and help us maintain our network, so if you or someone you know would like to get involved, please visit our volunteer page.

A snapshot of London Docklands

Once a thriving seaport a little over half a century ago, London Docklands had fallen into disuse and disrepair. Today, thanks to huge redevelopment in the 1980s, the famous old docks are once more abuzz with people, boats and trade, with the waters around Canary Wharf in particular, being managed by our charity.

Photographer, Niki Gorick, has spent the last few years capturing it all on camera for her latest book, Dock Life Renewed.

Someone maintaining a boat at Blackwell Basin

We asked Niki what inspired her to pick up her camera and head down to the dockside? “I became intrigued by life on the water,” she says, “it was such an amazing contrast; entire communities living and working on boats with these huge towers rising up behind them.”

A full rigged ship at mooring

Niki got a helping hand from our very own Ian Hugo, harbourmaster at the Isle of Dogs. “He's been fantastic,” says Niki, “he'd tip me off when there was something exciting going on, so I could zoom over and take some photos. Ian and the whole team were so helpful.”

With Ian's help, Niki was able to capture some truly breath-taking moments with her camera, from NATO warships to superyachts of the rich and famous. But what really stood out for her were the people living aboard in London.

West Midlands Winter Works

This winter, our charity has spent four months and £13m completing repairs to protect and preserve West Midlands' historic waterways. It's part of an even bigger £50m winter works programme across our 2,000-mile network.

With your support, our expert teams replaced worn-out lock gates, repaired historic bridges, and carried out a host of tasks to keep the region's waterways in good working order.

Workmen installing lock gates

New handcrafted lock gates were installed at several locks across the region including on the Main Line Canal in Wolverhampton, along the Oxford Canal at Hillmorton and on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal in Worcestershire.

Each seasoned oak lock gate is hand-crafted in the Trust's specialist workshops at Bradley in the West Midlands, or Stanley Ferry in Yorkshire. Weighing-in at several tonnes each, they typically last around 25 years, and are made to measure so that they fit perfectly in each historic lock chamber.

Jon Horsfall, acting regional director for the Canal & River Trust, says: “Our skilled teams have braved the elements this winter, carrying out the important ongoing repair and conservation work that is vital to keep the canals across the West Midlands open, safe, and accessible for boaters and local communities.

With the support of volunteers and the financial assistance from partners and donors, we've replaced lock gates and painstakingly repaired historic brickwork; continuing our work to ensure that our wonderful waterways are protected and never again fall back into the dark days of canal dereliction.”

Last Edited: 23 January 2023

photo of a location on the canals
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