Blacon’s canal journey

This story shows just what impact on happier, healthier lives our waterways are having around the county. It's brought to you courtesy of Councillor Carol Gahan.

Volunteers install fishing pegs at Blacon Volunteers install fishing pegs at Blacon

With the support of the Canal & River Trust, Blacon residents and the wider community in the Chester area are increasingly connecting with the canal and benefiting from the leisure opportunities the canal brings.

Councillor Carol Gahan

Blacon is very fortunate because the Shropshire Union Canal passes through the ward. This canal has been the catalyst that has led to initiatives that have increased leisure activities, provided food to reduce ‘Holiday Hunger’ among school age children and contributed to actions that have reduced Anti Social Behaviour (ASB) during the school summer holidays.

About Blacon

Blacon is towards the west of the City of Chester, on the border with North Wales. It is the most heavily populated ward in the borough and experiences some of the highest levels of deprivation in Cheshire West and Chester. 66.2% of Blacon’s population live in areas classified as being in the 20% most deprived areas in England (ref IMD 2013) Life expectancy in Blacon is significantly less than the national average and in general, the proportion of people in Blacon who report their health as being bad or very bad is higher than the national average.

Much to offer

Yet Blacon looks picturesque enough, its grass verges are well tended, our street scene team keeps the area free from litter, our schools are all rated as good or outstanding by Ofsted and we have the canal with its wonderfully accessible towpath connecting Chester to the National Waterway Museum at Ellesmere Port. With the support of the Canal & River Trust, Blacon residents and the wider community in the Chester area are increasingly connecting with the canal and benefitting from the leisure opportunities the canal brings.

Getting started

Ani Sutton and Carol Gahan hard at work

For the last three years the canal has been central to activities which have now grown into a full-blown summer holiday programme of events. These have kept our young people busy, provided lunches and meals and has led to year on year reductions in ASB in the ward. How did all this come about? The Trust’s development and engagement manager for the North West, Ani Sutton, was keen to get residents involved with the canal. After presentations to local community groups, a series of activities were set up creating a new connection to the canal that had not previously been evident in the community.

Both a boater and a fisher be

This engagement has involved two main canal activities.

Boat trips

We were able to make a connection with the Wirral Community Narrowboat Trust, a charity that provides boat trips for the elderly, disabled, special needs, youth and community groups and also the Saturn Project who work with the Canal & River Trust’s education team.

I first met these two organisations at the 2015 Annual North Wales & Borders Showcase held at the Chester Racecourse. Children from our six schools in Blacon have had access to a fully crewed specially adapted canal boat for two weeks in each of the last three years. Our 2019 trips are due to start in April. The WCNT raises funding for the trips from local Round Tables so we can make them free of charge to the schools. Parties of up to 12 children can experience the peace and tranquillity of the waterway and view wildlife and the industrial landscape from a different perspective. For many children this has been their first time on a boat and a unique experience for some children who otherwise don’t have holidays at all.

Expanding opportunities

This year we have been able to open the boat trips to Vivo Care who provide activities for adults with learning difficulties and I am hoping that some will come to fish as well. Similarly the Saturn Project has come to Blacon for the last three years and has moored overnight at the Countess County Park with parties of children spending time on the boat learning about the life of a boatie and what it was like in times gone by to live and work on the canal.

The canal through Chester The canal through Chester

Fishing at the heart of the programme

However, fishing has become the cornerstone of our summer programme. Working with the Trusts Let’s Fish! team of coaches led by Peter Henery we’ve introduced hundreds of Blacon residents and those in the wider Chester community to fishing.

Peter Henery leading the Let's Fish! team at Blacon Peter Henery leading the Let's Fish! team at Blacon

In our deprived area, we knew that children in Blacon were often hungry in the summer holiday period because the schools were closed, meaning no school meals were available. So along with the Neighbourhood team, we set about adding to the activities. This has grown over the last three years with the support of partners, which have included:

  • Cheshire West Council
  • Chester Council
  • Avenue Services Ltd
  • Cheshire Police
  • local supermarkets
  • Blacon Cleaner Safer Greener Group
  • Blacon WI
  • Volunteers from local churches

Pegging out

With support from funding from the Angling Trust Angling Improvement Fund the first steps on the fishing journey came with the casting and painting of the permanent fishing peg numbers which were then installed along the towpath. Twenty metal pegs were cast by the Trust and the painting undertaken by local school children. The pegs were subsequently installed along the canal bank in Blacon by volunteers recruited from the Bank of America.

My three boys all have additional needs and all have ADHD. This can mean they are extremely lively... it is amazing to see how their behaviours change once they have a rod in their hands.

Maxine Murphy, Let's Fish visitor

Let’s Fish Blacon

These pegs, located between bridge 128 and bridge 129 have provided the base for the fishing events which has been run for the last three years. The last two years have seen the Lets Fish! Programme grow significantly in Chester. All the permits, bait and equipment are provided via the qualified coaches and getting on for 500 young people have now tried fishing. A proportion have returned on numerous occasions.

Mum of three, Maxine Murphy, who's children attended Blacon's events lastyear told us:

"My three boys all have additional needs and all have ADHD. This can mean they are extremely lively. This year will be the third year of fishing on the rivers and canals and it is amazing to see how their behaviours change once they have a rod in their hands.

Harry says... 'I love going fishing, it's really calming and I can zone out from everything and everyone.'

Max says... 'I love the fishing, I just wish it could be longer than 30 minutes.'

Noah says... 'I love all the people that run the fishing, they're so patient and helpful and tell us all about the fish we catch.'"

Junior National Champion coaches at Blacon Let's Fish! Junior National Champion coaches at Blacon Let's Fish!

We've now put together the summer Lets Fish! Programme for 2019 and we are grateful to the Canal & River Trust for supporting us once again with this programme. We intend to see Blacon well represented in the cadet, youth junior national championships something we should perhaps have focussed on more in the past. After all, the event is being held on the southern section of our wonderful Shropshire Union Canal at a place called Little Onn.

Photo of Shropshire Union Canal at Little Onn

Cheshire Police data illustrated that when compared to 2017, the 2018 summer operation figures showed a year on year decline from 658 incidents closed down to 506 incidents closed – a 23% drop.

Councillor Carol Gahan

Crime reduction

During 2018 we held 51 events during the summer holidays, many of which included providing packed lunches and snacks, which we achieved using food donated by local supermarkets. Cheshire Police data illustrated that when compared to 2017, the 2018 summer operation figures showed a year on year decline from 658 incidents closed down to 506 incidents closed – a 23% drop. They might have otherwise expected a spike in ASB if there had been ‘nothing’ to do during the summer holidays.

A young Let's Fish! pupil at Blacon A young Let's Fish! pupil at Blacon catches first fish

In praise of Canal & River Trust

None of these wonderful experiences would have been possible without the Canal and River Trust and the hard work of staff and volunteers and their willingness to support and improve the health and wellbeing of children from a deprived area. The consistent delivery of the Let’s Fish! events programme for our children and young people has provided the base upon which we have expanded our support for the community in these challenging times. We are working to have the community fishing club up and running that we so want in Blacon, and I feel sure we will get there in the end.

Last date edited: 27 March 2019