The community route to culture

With Coventry celebrating its City of Culture this year, Waterfront discovers how a revitalised Coventry Canal will offer the local community and visitors a new route into the festivities. Our local community roots officer, Nick Cleaver, explains that a much-improved canal will be a perfect setting for art, creativity and outdoor fun.

Two seated young women chat next to the canal with a blue bike nearby Improvements to the Coventry Canal reach Hawkesbury Junction where it meets the Oxford Canal
Close up shot of man with baseball cap and sunglasses

“Having helped our community roots programme improve the canals in Birmingham for some years, the Canal & River Trust decided to send me to Coventry,” remarks Nick, getting the obvious joke in early. Still, it’s a move he’s glad he’s made.

“The City of Culture will be a catalyst for improving the city and a way to engage local people in turning a rather forgotten waterway into a jewel; a flagship.”

As the name implies, the Canal & River Trust’s community roots programme helps local people improve their local waterway from the ground up. “There are three stages to it,” says Nick. “First you ask local people what needs improving. Why don’t they visit their local canal? Is there a problem with litter, fly-tipping or graffiti? Is it to do with safety, or access to the canal? Then you try to engage local boating, walking, cycling or fishing groups in getting people down to water and get them interested. The third stage is to try to create canal adoption groups or feed people into our towpath taskforces. So in the end you create something very sustainable.

A grey metal bridge with a top arch crosses over the canal Bridging the divide between communities and their local canal

“By 2019, we understood the barriers in Coventry. For boaters, we needed to dredge the canal and cut back vegetation encroaching on the water. The towpath got quite muddy in places, so needed a better top surface. There were problems accessing the canal for bikes, buggies and wheelchairs. And when people got onto the canal, they didn’t know which way to turn, so signage needed improving too.”

Thanks to supporters like you, we worked with Coventry City Council and Sustrans in a three-way partnership to improve a 5.5-mile stretch of canal, from Hawkesbury Junction in the north of the city, right into the canal basin in the city centre, with most of the work taking place during lockdown.

“Now, it’s almost quicker to cycle into the city centre on the canal than it is to drive down the A444,” says Nick proudly. “In some ways, lockdown helped us improve the towpath without too much disruption, but it also meant a lot more footfall, and unfortunately a lot more litter. With many community volunteering plans having to go on hold, that set us back a bit.

“Having said that, we’ve got two canal adoptions just starting with the local Lions Club and a group from Crisis, the homelessness charity, looking after a local stretch. Plus, there’s a group we have been working with known as WASUP (World Against Single Use Plastics) who are helping us tackle plastic pollution on the Coventry Canal and across the region, so we’re motoring ahead with the City of Culture now underway.”

A man and a woman cycle alongside the canal on a sunny day Coventry Canal Basin has been revitalised as a destination to visit

With around 20 events planned to take place on or alongside the canal during the festivities, Nick and his team are working hard to make sure the canal opens visitors’ eyes to an amazing green and blue space in the heart of the city.

“At the canal basin, we’ve repainted all of the old iron infrastructure, replaced cobbles and put in new interpretation panels to explain the history of the Coventry Canal. We’ve also turned a small canal building into a Welcome Station for the City of Culture and Canal & River Trust volunteers. Hopefully, art and creativity will help many more people get interested in their local waterway,” enthuses Nick.

A heron stands next to the canal as a cyclist passes by Leaving a green and blue legacy along the Coventry towpath

“If we can get people to value their canal, they tend to come up with even more fantastic ideas for looking after it. The key thing is to leave a legacy. We’ve applied for Green Flag status for the Coventry Canal and are awaiting our visit from the assessment team, so it can be recognised as a wonderful open space of which the whole local community can be proud.”

Last date edited: 11 June 2021

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