This year Britain’s waterways celebrate 50 years of renaissance – turning from a national disgrace into a national treasure with the power to improve the happiness and wellbeing of millions of people across the nation.
Saved from dereliction and destruction by the 1968 British Transport Act and the hard work of hundreds of pioneers, the waterways have become vital outdoor spaces that reach into the heart of many towns and cities.
To mark this pivotal moment and as part of our ongoing nationwide programme of volunteering, we’re organising 50 practical events in July and calling for even more people to experience the benefits of using our historic waterways.
50 years on, canals are more popular with more visitors on the towpath and more boats than ever before. Our research shows that spending time by the waterways makes people happier and improves their life satisfaction.
Half a century ago the canals were often derelict, dangerous and at risk of destruction until a single piece of legislation, the 1968 British Transport Act, helped transform them into places for leisure and inspired a growing movement of passionate canal lovers to restore and campaign for their survival.
Over half of the population of England and Wales live within a short distance of a waterway ensuring that the most heavily populated communities have easy access to outdoor space that is completely free to visit, right on their doorstep.
Richard Parry, chief executive, said: "Our waterways have seen remarkable change from commercial freight carrying, through their use for leisure activities to a new era for improving the wellbeing of users. In the 1960s many canals were within a hair’s breadth of being lost forever – today they are important outdoor spaces that can play a vital role in transforming the health and wellbeing of our nation.
Without the Act and the extraordinary efforts of volunteers we wouldn’t be able to offer outdoor spaces sorely needed by today’s modern society for exercise, quiet reflection and relaxation. We know that there is still much work to be done to ensure that our canals are cherished as special local places everywhere, and we are delighted that so many communities are coming to see their value and taking pride in helping us to care for them."
Throughout the month of July, we'll be organising 50 of our practical Towpath Taskforce volunteering events across the country and are calling for everyone to make a difference to their historic canals, to their local communities and to their own health and wellbeing by joining one of the events to mark the 50th anniversary.