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The charity making life better by water

Celebrating ten years as a charity

Steve Dainty and his father

Steve Dainty, our finance director, reflects on the difference we've made to the canals and rivers across England and Wales in the last ten years, and the positive impact it's had.

Words by Steve

I was born and raised in the Black Country. Tipton to be precise. The Black Country so named because of the amount of industry in the area back in the day.

The canals were the arteries of that industry and the centre of our network. I was a child of the 80s, and, like so many other 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 and there was always a film of something that looked like oil on the top (or worse!), a shopping trolley or two and sometimes even deceased animals. If you were brave enough to walk up the arm to the main canal, it got slightly better. Only slightly. As I grew to be an adult, the canals were something I wanted to forget.

Steve's early memories of canals are a far cry from his love of the waterways today

Discovering green and blue spaces

Fast forward a few years and I saw a job advert to work for the Canal & River Trust. I'm ashamed to say that at that point I hadn't returned to any of the canals in my local area. I'd had one canal holiday on a rural part of the network. That was very nice, but that was the countryside, right? I guessed the canal had always been lovely there. It didn't mean that anything had changed.

How wrong I was.

In preparation for my job interview, I visited the Grand Union Canal near my house. It was within walking distance but I'd never even been. Wow, what a place! This was followed in quick succession with visits to the Worcester Canal, and the Coventry Canal.

At this point, I'm telling my friends and family: “Do you know what's near our houses, have you seen how great these green and blue corridors are?”. Some had, and were surprised I didn't know. Some hadn't and were as blown away as I was. I wanted that job.

Hooked on the change

So, I joined the Trust, and I learned some more. I learned about our strategy for the waterways and wellbeing. I saw what the local team in the West Midlands were doing in areas I knew well; how they had not only created these wonderful spaces, but were working with all of the diverse communities around them to ensure that they were used. Loved even.

I learned that this was happening all over the country. So now, I'm hooked.

Grand Union Canal

A ten year transformation

Our organisation has done so many things to make this 2,000 mile network so much better than it was ten years ago.

We all know what those things are. We see them in whatever part of the country we work or live. I see them, and it makes me feel great.

I'm now part of the team trying to secure the funding we need for the next ten years and beyond, and I'm still learning and seeing more. We welcome over 750 million unique visits to our waterways each year, and people love what we do.

Feeling better by water

My father still lives in the Black Country. We lost my mother some years ago to cancer. We are a close family, and like millions of others, Covid was a really lonely time for him as he was isolated from his family for so long.

Lockdown helped him to rediscover his local canal and it was a really important way in which he maintained his wellbeing over that period. Where, as a child, I'd found shopping trolleys, he found wild birds. The dangerous places to go in the 80s felt to him welcoming and beautiful. We all did that. We did it for him and millions like him.

How great is that?

We should be proud of what we have all achieved over the past ten years. Here's to making the next ten even better.

photo of a location on the canals
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