Wednesday 31 October 2012

Water Ways

Image courtesy of Yvonne Roberts, Artist In Residence
Fabric Lenny and Yvonne Roberts have been working with Canal Connections recently to capture the waterways based around Leeds using digital stills cameras and mobile devices. This has accumulated in a series of photographic artwork and moving image footage, including a short film: Water Ways

Monday 13 August 2012

Candle House Exhibited at Huddersfield Train Station

Yvonne Roberts, our Artist in Residence currently has work exhibited as part of A Taste Of HOST at The LBT in Huddersfield and at Huddersfield Railway Station. Amongst the pieces exhibited is her depiction of The Candle House, reflected in a puddle on the canal towpath which will be exhibited at Huddersfield Railway Station until 30th September.

Yvonne will be sharing her work during the HOST weekend on the 8th and 9th September at The LBT, along with work from her current solo exhibition The Last Curtain Call which is a feature attraction for the weekend in the main house, as part of Heritage Open Days.

Half Full or Half Empty?

I left my car in the ‘dark arches’ – “didn’t this use to be an eclectic mix of craft shops ? –a unique collection of individualistic retail outlets?”

I looked at the photographs displayed on the time worn walls evoking memories of Leeds as a foggy bustling port borne out of the vision and finance of local entrepreneurs and providing hard but honest employment through the true Yorkshire grit of Leeds inhabitants. 

Eerie noises –“the rumble of trains at the mainline station above us? Or the roar of the mighty River Aire nearing the end of its journey of providing a wildlife corridor from the heart of the Dales to the industrial heartland of Yorkshire.”

I blinked as I left the dark satanic caverns created by the Victorian infrastructure “the brilliant sunshine? Or the splendour of restored Granary Wharf by which no-one can be failed to be impressed ”

Merlot still sat lonely at the new moorings overlooked by the Hilton Hotel -reinforcing Leeds as a quality visitor destination and the iconic Candle House - demonstrating contemporary City Centre living.

 I looked across the newly restored dry dock and saw two boats moored on the offside of the canal. The Kirkstall Flyboat offering a unique opportunity in its floating restaurant – “but surely difficult to get access?” alongside a converted ‘live aboard’ which by its name and silhouette identified it as a former British Waterways workboat – “ still bringing life to the canal”.

I looked at the dry dock and saw the sculpture of a life size electricity pylon set at a precarious angle in its centre. I was joined by Frank, now ‘retired’ but he had spent his entire working life on the canals. His cynicism shone through “half empty dry dock represents how the waterways trades are dying. The canals are being used as a dumping ground for rubbish.”

We were joined by Tom, a young City Centre finance worker – “I can’t agree -the half full dock represents how the waterways are bringing life into the City and being used as an alternative energy source.”

In unison they turned and asked “what does it mean to you?” – “It means I have a 4 day cruise to Goole docks to take the Merlot out of water for routine maintenance and bottom blacking!”

As Merlot slipped through River Lock leaving the security of the Leeds-Liverpool canal and entering the River Aire I was again reminded of how our city Forefathers had harnessed and created a waterways corridor  for energy and transport positioning Leeds at the centre of the UK but connecting ports on the East and West coasts of the country.

A new beginning...

Quite an important day – created by something so small. 
 Canal Connections has just got their new Business Cards.
I could have got the ‘traditional‘ cards but I wanted something that reflected Canal Connections' creativity – that was relevant to our new start – that embodied our roots in Leeds.

Our contact information is on one side but on the reverse is a series of images that reflect our potential ‘joining’ with Leeds.
Castleton Mill - old
Candle House – new
Oddy locks – can we borrow for community use?
The long view – blue
 We hope it will be a long and prosperous union...

Wednesday 18 July 2012

Leeds Waterfront Festival

Recently, I had accepted an invitation to the Inland Waterways Association boat gathering as part of the Leeds Waterfront Festival. Merlot was already moored at Thwaite Mills so I drove over. The site was abuzz with activity as I opened up Merlot and started to soak up the atmosphere.

I was promoting the N.C.B.A. and had a range of conversations with different people who were interested and supportive of our aims. It was very easy to demonstrate the value of community boating with colleagues from Safe Anchor Trust providing free boat trips over the weekend.
I had taken the opportunity to invite my fellow director over but it is very difficult to hold a meeting when I kept disappearing to photograph the celidah band singing shanty songs on the rear of Amy Hudson. A beautiful atmospheric setting with the wind blowing in the rigging.
Canal Connections is developing a relationship with our neighbours at T.S. Ark Royal and it was interesting to see the many different facets that the Cadets were helping with. Traffic control over the bridge, safety boat on the river, general support and supervision throughout the site.

I took a trip on Safe Anchors new boat and was impressed by the attitude of the Cadets as they took control of mooring. They were rewarded by a boat trip and I was able to see at first hand how they very quickly adapted their seamanship skills into crewing on the narrowboat.

As I walked around the site I again saw Cadets learning new skills as Chris supported them in making a fender – the older generation (!) passing on their skills. I spoke with Elaine who had organised the event. She was giving brass rubbing demonstrations but our discussion generated thought for next year in teaching young people how to learn and pass on these skills at next years festival.
I continued wandering and found the display of classic cars, a healistic reader using an old Romany caravan, and a display of creative arts which had been made over the weekend.

As I returned to Merlot the navigation was filled with Sobriety, a Humber barge, passing the Humber Keel. 2 similar boats providing access, education and conservation to support future generations but in different ways.
Heritage is about caring for the future as much as remembering the past and there were so many examples over the weekend that reinforced the ethos of Canal Connections – it’s not just a boat.

Tuesday 10 July 2012

Throw a Stone In The Water...

Last week I had a very full day of networking and idea propagation in three very similar but completely different locations!! First off I have applied for a start up grant from the School for Social Entrepreneurs. The information session was held in Harehills, Leeds. On arrival it was obviously a former Victorian  school building.  The imposing entrance gave a clue that its use had been changed with “Shine” in bold letters. The interior had been converted to a very modern minimalistic look but there was a buzz of vitality coming from the variety of social enterprises it now houses.
The 25 applicants had to give a 2 minute presentation as to their enterprise and it was inspiring to hear peoples experiences that had given them the passion to create change.
Stephen said: “I will stand up to show I am special” then recounted how he had been told the number of things he would not be able to do again – walk –speak – hear following serious illness.  Evidencing he could now do those things but the manner of peoples attitude had given him the desire to give fellow ‘special’ people information where they could get a standard of service. A trip Advisor model!!
Stewart as an ex-offender demonstrating how he would use his Masters degree to support others to overcome the barriers that individuals face on their release from prison.
Sheila talked about developing an education enterprise to “stop before you start”.  Following the death of her parents within 12 weeks of each other to lung cancer caused by smoking wanted to create an early intervention amongst young people. A very competitive process but I spoke to a number of individuals after the session to develop a network because of the synergy between our visions. – You don’t know where it may lead.
I then went into the middle of Seacroft.  The lovely green space hides the complexity of issues that many of the residents face but the ‘perimeter fence’ around the Academy gives an indication of the effect of those issues. The Moyes Centre is a multi Agency and community hub with hot desking and meeting space to enable partnership working to develop informally.  This was demonstrated on a number of occasions by people just saying hello but then saying “oh you are the boat man” or “Alan has told me about the canal man”  This created conversations about how they could see a boat project benefiting the area.  I showed my visitors around who could not hide their admiration for the facilities. Comments ranged from “It must cost you a fortune” to “Are we holding our A.G.M. here next year?”
The day was to finish with a relaxing cruise from Bramley.  Arranged by Beautiful Bramley, it was part of a weeks festival incorporating our friends from Safe Anchor again. They provided 2 boats for local residents to have cruises morning and afternoon. The boat was adorned with art created by the passengers but their programme showed their further creativity.  Bring your own vinyl (records) and dance on the smallest floating dance floor to a floating mini cinema.

The boat was abuzz with conversations about the benefits that Safe Anchor had brought.  I could not resist throwing in “but that is only four times a year”.  This led to conversations about how they would use their local canal if they had greater access. Pam from the local Tenants and Residents Association said “We have a young lad on an ABC order but he would do really well on this” – Steve from the Community Association said “We would use it for inter-generational work” Alan explained how his pupils had benefited on the ‘Horse boat project’ – Chris could certainly see it helping her family intervention work. John explained about his idea for the use of the canal between Bramley and the town centre. This raised the concern about the boarded up lock keepers cottage. I explained it was to be auctioned and this led to an action plan as to how we could delay the sale in order to put a business model together for social and public benefit.  “Once its gone – we’ll never get it back”
Safe Anchor, providing "Access For All"
Paul sat quietly in the corner listening to the conversations but when asked he told us that he was making a guide to help people who had mobility problems to find out where they could hire an adapted boat.  I gave him details of a colleague who organises trips for families with wheelchair users and voiced the NCBA concerns about the limited compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act –“Perhaps we could work together and ….then there’s Steve from this morning.”
……………….and see where the ripples go

The Merlot Arrives in Leeds

 As a reward for the students help on the recent Horse Boat Project, I had promised them some boat handling training. “You can drive the boat instead of walking alongside it!” But first it was time for Merlot to come down stream to Leeds. Another couple of cadets offered their assistance and again used their new skills to operate the locks. “A different operation as the boat is now going downstream”  
Bilbo waiting to start its epic journey - unnoticed and unheralded but bringing heritage to life!
Merlot pulled away from Shipley Wharf leaving the warmth and friendship of this little community to take on the “unchartered” waters of Leeds. We were accompanied by Chas in his boat “Can I share with you as I am single handed and it is impossible to operate the bridges on your own.” He explained to the young people the pleasures of living on a boat but also the difficulties. At the end of the day I asked Charley, one of the cadets, why she had got involved in the project. “When we were asked to volunteer I didn’t really understand it. I thought it was unique but I thought it would be boring, but it wasn’t. I really enjoyed it but to-day has been a 100 times better.” 
A view of Leeds as we bring Merlot downstream
I thanked them and made the last stretch on my own. I left Office lock to enter the iconic splendour of Granary Wharf and moored her underneath the sentinels of Candle House and the Hilton Hotel. Merlot had arrived in Leeds to start the next stage of her life as a community boat enabling communities to access the waterways with a focus on creative inspiration and family engagement, combining three interests of what little I know of this generous stranger in America.
A view of Thwaite Mills as we negotiate a new home for Merlot

Monday 9 July 2012

Conference Update: Waterways Heritage Conference - “A new vision for Waterways Museums” (May 2012)

I received an invitation to facilitate a workshop at Ellesmere Port on “How can museums meet social needs?” I telephoned Peter and queried “have you got the right person? I don”t know anything about museums.” His re-assurance surely meant they could not get anyone else!
On arrival I was met by an ‘army’ of volunteers – administration, catering, guiding. Some were dressed in period costume but they all wore a smile. This wasn’t a museum it was a vibrant venue to bring history alive. The noticeboard was full of events – “knit and natter” alongside the “Youthy theatre” – bringing young and old together naturally.
The day was again a full packed agenda with a variety of quality speakers but it was not about dusty relics it was about people. How people had brought the museum to life and more importantly how it had transformed peoples lives.
Time for my workshop – ½ hour to find the answer but 29 minutes was spent discussing what we meant by social needs!!
The points raised were consolidated for the feedback but a brief summary was 2 elements: people and story telling. The museum holds so many stories about our past but which are relevant to our future. We need people to tell that story, we need people to bring the story to life, different people have different skills, different abilities but they can all come together for different aspects – I learnt a new phrase of “job slicing”.
The summing up included the comments of “giving people a stake in Society – giving them value.”
Before I left I sneaked around the corner to see the Royal Yacht. How appropriate that The Queens accomadation whilst she toured some of the North East waterfronts, which demonstrate how the waterways are breathing economic and social development into some of our more disadvantaged towns and cities, should be moored here reinforcing our vision for the future – people are important.
A tiring but rewarding day. 

Thursday 7 June 2012

Conference Update: Waterways for Growth Partnership Meeting Aalst (March 2012)

I was still exhausted from the conference, having just snatched a few hours sleep to start a journey by car, plane and train across Europe. The next few days could have been seen as a holiday but it was always an intense and full few days. The setting and the company was wonderful and the amount of information that was shared and given was tremendous. The photographs I take when I am out and about usually show the pleasurable side of the work but the most importance aspect is the common aim of how we use the waterways for sustainable growth. Why is it surprising to find that lessons learnt in Norway can be replicated in the UK? The sharing of knowledge and experience is immense.
When I joined this group of experts I felt completely out of my depth. Their work was about economic and physical regeneration. Where did people come into it? But now we have workshops on “the social economy” integrating that 3rd element of “social regeneration” – people are important.

Meeting up in the centre of Aalst for the Waterways For Growth Partnership Meeting
Working Late

Lest We Forget - An extremely moving experience of visiting a prison used during the war for the interrogation of resistance fighters

Conference Update: NCBA AGM (March 2012)

This is the third year of holding a conference in the capital as it was felt important to position the organisation as a key stakeholder within the Waterways and be accessable to other major stakeholders and political allies.
The setting of the Union Jack club put us within striking distance of Westminster and the River Thames and its magnificent interior evoked images of a bygone age of British spirit. The photographs and models reminding me of the sacrifice of our countrymen but the group coming through the door showing that sacrifice was still being met by our current generation.
The day was filled with a range of speakers with projects speaking of how they were meeting current needs of the community –“respite care for Armed Services” to “Partnership working” to the key topic of “sustainability”. These presentations were complemented by Alun Michael M.P. (Chair of the All Parliamentary Waterways Group) and John Bridgeman (Vice chair of British Waterways Board and transitional trustee of Canal and River Trust). We were able to demonstrate how the work of Community Boat Organisations bring so much value and benefit to individuals but should be a valuable and valued partner to the emerging Trust.
It raised  questions of “are we remote from the membership?’  - “you are doing so much but you don’t  tell members” but brought an enthusaiasm from the floor for individual projects to work closer together, share knowledge and resources.
I spoke later with John who commented “ You are doing a fantastic job – its not about the boat it’s what you do with that boat. It’s about people.”

At the End of the Conference Day London NCBA

Conference Update: IWA /CRT waterways volunteering conference (Feb 2012)

A major event within the waterways world is the transition of British Waterways into the third sector. A real example of the ‘Big Society’ restoring this National treasure into the custody of the Nation. A joint conference had been orgainsed by the Inland Waterways Association and the emerging Canal and River Trust. Invitations had been extended to waterways organisations. The canal side was brought to life on a cold February morning by over 150 waterways interested enthusiasts. We had been asked to provide an ‘image’ and a short paragraph explaining what that image meant to us (see image and text below). The photographs were proudly displayed around the conference centre and demonstrated decades of fighting – either nature or beaucroacy - to restore the waterways.
The start of a highly organized day commenced with the workshops breaking out to study the photographs and choose one image. I was struck by the fact that a lot were of structures some brought to life by people but very few featured a boat!” The intensity of the day did not slacken but whilst we all came from a different start point we all shared a common destination – the recognition and importance of the waterways – but people are at its heart.
The day was summed up by Lynne Berry, a transitional trustee of the new charity. -“The canals were at the heart of the Industrial Revolution and now they are at the start of a Social Revolution” When I get home and my family ask “what have you done to-day?”  I will be able to tell “We had a cup of tea, we nattered and we started a revolution.”
More Than Just a Boat - this is the image and text (below) that we shared and discussed at the conference

More than just a boat
The waterways corridor is the gateway and the boat the key that unlocks the door allowing a variety of people to enter into a world, which has always been there - but they have never experienced.

The pace of the journey introduces the individual to landscapes, vegetation, wildlife, heritage, architecture and creativity whilst enabling communication with each other and nature.

It is used as a means to improve interaction between generations, cultures and communities acting as a catalyst for personal development.

Tuesday 5 June 2012

Horse Drawn Journeys - The Journey Begins

It would take 3 days to travel the 17 miles from Leeds to Bradford but it would be worth all the preparation. The official opening ceremony was to take place at the Armouries Museum and on arrival I was told that Sue was in the main arena with Bilbo (the cob that was to lead the boat all the way from Leeds to the Tower of London) for the start of the first stage of this epic journey.
On entering the arena I was amazed. The auditorium seats were empty and Sue and Bilbo stood alone in the corner of this massive stage. Tumbleweed rolled in the breeze reminding me of a scene from a B rated western.
After the various preparations of harnessing Bilbo the journey commenced. He towed the boat for 100 yards before being unhitched for the first lock. A further short manhandling across the mouth of Clarence Dock before being harnessed up again. 20 yards and the horse and rope had to overcome the barrier that protected the gated compound of new residential accommodation. Defeat was finally accepted and Elland was buttyed up for the journey along the City Centre waterfront.
Passing through River lock into the iconic splendour of Granary Wharf, the start of the Leeds-Liverpool canal. A security guard looked on in amazement as Bilbo was led across the pristine flagstones to finally be harnessed between the dry dock and moorings, only to meet the barrier of a locked gate to prevent vehicle access along the tow path.
The youngsters commented upon the dramatic change merely by crossing the road of Wharf Approach. The canal looked unloved and uncared for. Derelict buildings, overgrown stretches of land, unpainted lock gates, litter and graffiti.

Image courtesy of Yvonne Roberts, Artist in Residence
The end of day 1 was Armley Mills but how did you get access from the canal? A high wall protected by razor wire surrounded it. Eventually the museum staff opened a big double gate, which opened up into another oasis. – almost a mirror image of Thwaite Mills. Bilbo was led to graze in its massive grounds.
Day 2 merged into Day 3 and we arrived in Saltaire. The young people had constantly commented upon the changing landscape of the canal from heavy industrial to serene rural before entering the softer industrial buildings of Bradford.
As we passed through Shipley Wharf we saw the Merlot nestled amongst the other boats at the mooring. They looked at me in bewilderment as I pointed it out to them. I explained its importance as a community boat.
We arrived at our destination of Saltaire to a small welcoming party. After a short speech and thanks from Sue we got into our minibus for the journey back to Leeds.
The project had benefited over 50 pupils who had given over 450 hours of ‘voluntary’ labour. They had collected over 20 bags of rubbish; they had operated 18 locks, and opened 10 swing bridges. They had walked over 20 miles. The only complaint was that the project had finished.

BUT had it ……….

The next day 2 Cadets came to help out at the heritage weekend. They used their new skills during the horse boat demonstrations as it went up and down Hirst lock. They guided visitors to the demonstrations and they explained with pride their involvement over the previous weeks.
The school has expressed a wish to help develop a locally based community boat project in Leeds; they have expressed a wish to ‘adopt’ part of the canal and to become more involved in the work of the Museums. They have clearly seen the potential of the waterways and their enthusiasm is very exciting.

Horse Drawn Journeys - Preparations

“What better way to introduce our pupils to the Industrial Revolution. This will bring history to life. It will introduce them to the heritage of Saltaire; 1 of 2 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Yorkshire”

I took Alan down the road from Seacroft, a severely disadvantaged community but the school has a very strong community development focus, to Thwaite Mills. A ¼ hour journey but it was like walking into an oasis. The mill buildings in various states of maintenance but set in massive grounds, contained on an island and access by bridge across the navigation. Pupils were shown how the water wheels operate; the blacksmiths forge which is still in use and the grounds that had evidence of conservation and environmental work.

“What a fantastic resource”

And the project unfolds…

“This is such a unique event we should film it”

The pupils at DYCA have different levels of motivation, skills, interests and ability so they would perform different aspects of the project.

Sapling cutting – the Prince’s Trust and Duke of Edinburgh’s programmes which are used for pupils who learn better by non–traditional methods. The physical task of cutting back was mixed with a general clean of rubbish of the towpath.

Lock setting – the Combined Cadet Corps. “They are used to operating as a team, they will do whatever you ask them to do and they can be relied upon to do it well”

Documenting the event - Media students – “They have some really good kit. They can film the start of the journey”

Film extras – Drama students – “They will dress up in costume”

The pupils had to understand the importance of what they were doing and Adrian from the Society gave them a lesson explaining how they fitted in.  Canal Connections gave a days training to prepare the students in lock and bridge operations. Rachel from Aire Action gave them an induction in Health and Safety prior to carrying out the vegetation work.