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.

Horse Drawn Journeys - Getting Involved

Recently, I was at a networking meeting where a variety of community groups had a 3-minute pitch to tell each other about their projects. I was intrigued by Sue Day, The chair of the Horse Boating Society; a charity whose aim is to keep the heritage and culture of this original form of canal boat use alive, was asking for volunteers. Sue was bringing her boat to Saltaire in April for the World Heritage weekend. I spoke to her later at the bar:

“It’s the first time for 60 years that a horse drawn boat has travelled on the Leeds - Liverpool canal. There are only 5 horse boats operating in this country and the others are commercial operations.”

I arranged to meet her to find out how we could get involved. The boat stood alone on the moorings at Thwaite Mills, Leeds on the mighty Aire and Calder navigation. 

"I need a boat to tow me to Leeds because the towpath has disappeared in places. The tow path on the canal also needs saplings cutting back so that the rope does not get snagged. I need someone to set the locks and bridges. I need guides to warn people of a horse on the towpath."

A call to Alan at David Young Community Academy revealed a strange response. “This could link into various aspects of our pupils school work", and the horse boat project begun...

Merlot - Part 1

I first became introduced to the Merlot via an e-mail I received, which had been sent to all NCBA members. A lady called Maeve wanted to loan her boat to a community boat project. Intrigued I sent an e-mail to the address in the message, expressing an interest. It transpired that Maeve used to live on the canal in her boat and it was a wonderful life. She had now moved to America and was unable to use it. She didn’t want to sell it in case her 1 yr old son wanted to use it when he grew up.
A trip to Hayling Island revealed Merlot a 45’ narrow. It had been taken out of the water, was totally out of place, crammed between sea going craft and perched precariously on top of empty oil drums. Enquires of a ‘neighbour’ revealed it had been there for 9 years, the engine was full of water and you could not get inside for debris of gas bottles, paint tins etc.
No time for a survey I took a risk and told her that we would look after it for her. Arrangements were made and it was brought by low loader to Dewsbury to get it ready for her new role. She was lowered into the water at Dewsbury Basin in order to go across the cut to use the slipway. Would she sink? She certainly would not start! – No problem – on the slip way the work started.
On entering the cabin it was like stepping into a time capsule. Everything was as Maeve had left it all that time ago. Clothes had been ruined by damp but it was obvious that she had been involved in the creative industry in some way.
Brought back to life by a team of enthusiastic volunteers she was ready to move onto Shipley Wharf where her ‘rehabilitation’ continued.

Image courtesy of Yvonne Roberts, Artist in Residence