The changing face of our canals

To mark our 10-year anniversary, our very own finance director, Steve Dainty, kindly agreed to share some of his reflections on our changing canals. Born and raised in Tipton in the Black Country, the way he enjoys life by water today is very different from his early memories of canals.

Two men sitting on a lock gate arm facing camera Steve Dainty (left) and his father Mick enjoy a walk on the Birmingham Main Line Canal in Tipton

“I was a child of the 80s, and like a lot of things at that time, the canals were in a bad state. In my street, there was a disused arm of the Walsall Canal. In summer it had a certain smell; there was always a film of something that looked like oil (or worse) floating on the surface, a shopping trolley or two, and sometimes the odd long gone animal. If you were brave enough to walk up the arm to the main canal, it got slightly better. But only slightly.

Fast forward a few years, and I spotted an advertisement for a job with the Canal & River Trust. I’m ashamed to say that at that point I hadn’t been back to any of my local canals since childhood, but I was intrigued about how things might have changed. To prepare for my interview, I visited the Grand Union Canal, near my house. It was within walking distance, but incredibly, I’d never been. Wow, what a place! I was just blown away. In quick succession, I visited the Worcester & Birmingham Canal and the Coventry Canal. I began telling my friends and family, “do you know what’s near our houses, have you seen how great these green and blue corridors are?” I wanted that job.

When I joined the team, I quickly learned about our strategy to be a Trust for waterways and wellbeing. I saw first-hand what the local team in the West Midlands were doing, how we had not only created these wonderful spaces but were working with all of the diverse communities around them to ensure they were used. Loved even. This was happening all over the country. I was hooked!

Over the last ten years, our charity has done so much to improve our 2,000-mile network. We see it everywhere, no matter where we live or work. We welcome over 750 million unique visitors each year. People love what we do.

My father still lives in the Black Country. We lost my mother some years ago. We’re a close family, and like millions of others, the pandemic was a very lonely time for him. Lockdown helped him rediscover his local canals, and they were so important for his wellbeing during that difficult time. Where, as a child, I found shopping trolleys, he found wild birds. Areas that felt dangerous in the 1980s, were to him welcoming and beautiful. We all did that. We did it for him and millions like him. How great is that? We should all be proud of what we have achieved over the past 10 years. Here’s to making the next 10 even better.”

As Steve says, it’s been a remarkable 10 years for the Trust. With your help and support, we will continue to protect our canals for nature, bring heritage to life and help more people enjoy time by water so that future generations will cherish their local canal too.

Last date edited: 4 July 2022

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