Volunteer to restore the Monty

The Montgomery Canal is one of the prettiest canals in the UK. It passes through picturesque countryside, taking boaters, walkers and cyclists on a journey through a landscape that oozes with tranquillity. We know that being by water improves people’s wellbeing, just as being out in nature does. Read on to find out why helping to restore this iconic canal could change your life.

Volunteers working on the Montgomery canal Shropshire Union Canal Society working on the Monty

The Montgomery Canal is referred to as ‘the Monty’ by those who love it. Many hold it close to their hearts and have seen some major changes to its use over the years. The canal has a wonderful built and natural heritage with 127 listed structures (believed to be more per mile than any other canal) and being a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for most of its length. It sits across the border of England and Wales, with its northernmost part situated in North Shropshire and the southern end leading to Newtown in Powys. It was originally built and opened in stages, and was in full working order by 1821, supplying agricultural materials to the surrounding farms. However, by the 1930s traffic on the canal had faded.

A new lease of life

Since the mid-1960s the canal has benefited from groups of extremely dedicated volunteers who have brought this once derelict waterway back to life, making it an integral part of its surrounding areas again. More than half of the canal has already been restored through an impressive joint effort by the bodies that make up the Montgomery Canal Partnership. These organisations share a strong vision to complete the restoration with the sustainability of the canal, its heritage and the surrounding rural landscape at the project’s heart. The restoration will connect local tourist attractions and provide a driving force for rural regeneration in this part of England and Wales.

You can read about the plan to restore the Monty in more detail in the Montgomery Canal Restoration Strategy.

People working on restoring the canal in 1969 Welshpool Big Dig, 1969: Clearing from Severn Street Bridge to the lock (photo: Waterways Images)

The restoration of Schoolhouse Bridge

In autumn 2020 work will start on the reconstruction of Schoolhouse Bridge near Oswestry in Shropshire, as part of the plan to restore the last two miles of dry canal that link up to the Welsh border. Skilled and unskilled volunteers will do a lot of the work, including clearing the site, laying a temporary road, digging out the old road embankment and installing the foundations for the bridge. They will also build gabion supported embankments (cages filled with earth or stones), backfill areas with concrete and do bricklaying. The arch and other structurally important works will be done by specialist contractors.

Ian Lane, the Canal & River Trust’s Head of Operational Projects said, “The outstanding work that the Montgomery Canal Partnership and its members have been doing with us on the Monty has been wonderful to watch over the last couple of years. This canal is one of our most treasured waterways, particularly because of its historic importance and environmental status as a Special Area of Conservation.

“The work the partnership having been doing over many years has had such an outstanding impact on the Monty, allowing areas of it to reopen to boats after many years of being closed. They have saved and restored many a historic feature, including Victorian canal mechanics, and have cemented the canal as a must-see place to visit in Mid Wales and Shropshire.

“We’re all looking forward to the reconstruction of Schoolhouse Bridge, which will take place over the next 12 months. It will be one of our most exciting projects in Shropshire in 2021, which, once completed, will have restored an incredibly valuable link on the canal.”

Rebuilding this bridge will follow on from work that other volunteers are doing on the canal, particularly the re-lining of the canal bed to Crickheath Basin, which is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2021. This will enable two miles of restored canal to be opened from Maesbury to Crickheath.

People celebrating 40 years of montgomery canal restoration Welshpool 40th Big Dig Celebrations in 2009 (photo: Waterways Images)

Volunteering matters

Volunteering has many benefits and choosing to volunteer on a project that aims to create social, environmental and economic benefits whilst working outdoors is an opportunity not to be missed. It doesn’t have to be a long-term commitment or take up large amounts of your time. Volunteering can work around you and your life, and many volunteers soon start to notice the benefits on their health and wellbeing.

Volunteering can reduce stress, fight depression and provide a sense of purpose. It can also help keep you physically healthy. Plus, there is always the opportunity to learn new skills, which is good for young and old alike.

The Monty is ideally located to provide volunteering opportunities for people living across Mid Wales and the West Midlands, as it’s only a short distance from the M54 motorway.

Volunteers working at Crickheath on the Monty Shropshire Union Canal Society volunteers clearing the channel ready for ecological, topographic and structural condition surveys (photo: Shropshire Union Canal Society)

The Montgomery Canal Partnership is recruiting volunteers to help maintain progress on the project. Whilst specialist skills are needed for some of the work, they’re not essential and training may be given. The existing team are a congenial group who enjoy being outdoors and creating something special. Volunteers have such a key role to play in restoring this vital link on the canal and every single individual makes a huge impact.

Anyone with an interest in managing social media accounts is also encouraged to get in touch, to help increase the digital presence of this impressive restoration.

Last date edited: 7 September 2020