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Regional Round up South - May 2024

Hot off the press, it’s our Regional Round Up, with all the latest news from a canal near you. This time, we’re looking at restoration work in Shropshire, art in Gloucester, and a beloved boat in London.

Moving forward on the Monty

Work is underway on a 360-metre stretch of the Montgomery Canal in Shropshire, thanks to new funding of £253,000. This will secure the latest phase of the volunteer-led restoration, a labour of love, going back half a century.

Works on the Montgomery Canal Volunteers re-profiled the canal bed, putting down plastic membrane

Opened in 1819, the Montgomery Canal, known affectionately as ‘the Monty’, was once a vital trade link, bustling with narrowboats laden with limestone and coal. But by the end of the century, traffic had begun to dwindle, and following a major breach in the 1930s, the canal was finally abandoned.

Work to restore the Monty began in 1969 with the famous “Big Dig” at Welshpool, when local residents came out in force to clear a one-and-a-half-mile stretch of the canal. Ever since, volunteers have been working tirelessly to return this beloved waterway to its former glory. So far, 35 miles of towpath have been made accessible.

But restoring the Monty isn’t simply an exercise in nostalgia, as our regional enterprise manager, Nicola Lewis-Smith, explains: “The restoration of another section of the Montgomery Canal will bring benefits to local people and businesses through regeneration, jobs, and leisure opportunities, as well as improving corridors for wildlife.”

The latest raft of works will help to close the so-called “Shropshire Gap”, two miles of dried-out canal between Crickheath and the Welsh Border. With additional funding and your continued support, we hope to realise our vision of restoring the Monty to full navigation.

Folk art for the 21st century

A brand-new art installation at the National Waterways Museum in Gloucester is breathing new life into an age-old tradition. Described as folk art for the 21st century, ‘Folk for Folk’ draws inspiration from working canal boat people, who used vibrant colours and designs to adorn their vessels and define their identities.

Artists from Folk for Folk, National Waterways Museum Gloucester Soozy and Hannah, from arts group Gasp Projects, proudly display their collection

In much the same way, the collection, created by members of Gloucester’s community groups, young people, and local artists, explores important subjects, close to the hearts of the city’s diverse population, from housing and living conditions to relationships, personal identity, family, and friends.

Creative producer for ‘Folk for Folk’, Katherine Glynne-Jones, explains more: “When we think about canal boat art, the distinctive Roses and Castles spring to mind. Bold and colourful, those images tell a deep and fascinating story of individuality, aspiration and a fierce pride. Our young artists used their chosen media to tell their own stories, creating authentic and unique folk art that places them firmly in 2024.”

All told, more than 50 people contributed to the project. All the finished works, ranging from textiles, paintings, sculpture, digital art and photography, are currently on display at the National Waterways Museum. So why not pay a visit to see a modern twist on a proud boating tradition?

Restoring hope in West London

A beloved widebeam boat, named Jena, is getting a much-needed makeover from volunteers in Little Venice in West London. The 60-foot cruiser, once a popular community outreach boat for the Trust, had fallen into disrepair before volunteer leader Gareth George stepped in.

Before and after in workboat Jena The team have been hard at work to improve 'Jena’s' interior

Fresh from winning the team prize at the recent Marsh Awards for restoring another of our boats, Griffin, Gareth and his team were ideally placed to save the ageing vessel. But nothing could have prepared them for what they found.

Jena was in a sorry state, as Gareth explains: “The boat had a bicycle wrapped around its propeller, it was completely flooded, and then it was broken into and vandalised, TV stolen, windows smashed; and then it was basically left to go mouldy over lockdown. So it was a bit of a mission.”

It took the team three months to rip up the rotten floorboards, remove the ballast, and dry out the inside of the boat using a dehumidifier. From there, they installed new floors and a roof and gave the interior a fresh lick of paint.

With any luck, Jena will be ready in time to fly the flag for the Trust at the IWA Canalway Cavalcade at Little Venice, a vibrant waterways celebration across the May Day Bank Holiday weekend, where she’ll be resuming her role as a community outreach boat, providing tours and trips, and hosting children’s storytelling sessions. A happy ending for a beloved boat that was very nearly forgotten.

Last Edited: 17 April 2024

photo of a location on the canals
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