The initiative has been inspired by various community groups, from scout troops to waterside residents, who have, since the establishment of the charity last year, come forward asking to get more involved in the day-to-day care of their local canal and river.
When we took over the care of 2,000 miles of historic waterways in England and Wales on 2 July 2012, it was the largest ever single transfer of state assets to the voluntary sector. Since then we have raised almost £1,000,000 in donations and in-kind support, recruited around 3,000 Friends and received pledges of support from 17 corporate partners, including Marks & Spencer, Google and People's Postcode Lottery.
Among the most significant changes has been the growth in numbers of people wanting to volunteer on the waterways, including over 250 volunteer lock keepers and 84 education volunteers who have inspired around 10,000 children to learn more about the waterways.
Tony Hales, chairman, explains: “We have made a great start in our first year but have only just begun to realise the untapped potential out there among communities wanting to get more involved in their local waterway. Adoptions are the next natural step. They aren't just good for our canals, rivers and towpaths, helping to get those communities who most care for them to help us with their upkeep. They are good for communities too, providing wonderful outdoor spaces for people to come together, to get involved in a rewarding activity and to grow their own community.”
Waterway adoptions give communities the chance to work together with our local teams and partnerships to shape the future of their waterways. At a hands-on level they are able to get involved in activities specific to their waterway, from recording and improving wildlife habitats or maintaining a local towpath, to helping to fundraise, run educational events or helping combat anti-social behaviour. For some groups, adopting a canal is also a social activity, allowing them space for BBQs and social events and for meeting and mixing with their neighbours.
A group of residents living near the Rochdale and Ashton Canals in Manchester did exactly that, joining together to form the Ancoats Canal Project. James Headifen describes the experience: “We had a real desire to get involved and enhance our local waterside area and working with the Trust we've been able to put on some great events and make some really positive changes. The Trust simply can't do everything all the time so it's great to get together as a group and to give a little back to something that many of us use every day. It's been really fun and satisfying to be part of making a difference in caring for our important industrial heritage, green spaces and canals in Ancoats.”
Tony Hales adds: “It is easy to forget that 500 miles of canals were lost in the last century because not enough people cared about them and too many people took them for granted. We should never forget the lesson that it doesn't matter how much money, time and effort we all invest in caring for our precious waterways, they will only survive in the long term where local communities take pride in them and help us improve them.”