Monday, 22 December 2014

Looking backwards and forwards at the same time!

It is traditional at this time of year to have a quick review of the past 12 months and once again it has been a busy year on the canal.

The Wilts & Berks Canal Trust decided to mark the centenary of the passing of the Act of Abandonment with a public event to demonstrate how the work of restoration is bringing the  waterway  back to life. In many ways the Melksham River Festival exceeded expectations, and on a sunny weekend in September gave the local community a feel of how the town will be changed when the Melksham Link is completed.

WBCT now owns a canal side pub, the Peterborough Arms, thanks to the passion and generosity of Trust members. This certainly saved a prime site  from being turned into  a private residence.

Two planning consents were granted, at  Pewsham Locks and Studley Grange, allowing the projects to progress.

Waitrose opened their new store alongside the canal at Wichelstowe, and we are applying for permission to build a new landing stage right outside so that our trips can start from there.

We are hopeful that the new year will see the start the next phase of Swindon Borough Council’s Wichelstowe development, and tied in to that will be our plans to link the exisiting canal stretches at Kingshill and East Wichel.

The Dragonfly boat team had their busiest year yet.

Successful funding bids for £50k from People’s Millions (Studley Wildlife Trail)  adding to the funding  already secured (approx £160k) from Underwood Trust and £4k from the Inland Waterways Association.

The winter storms caused a culvert at Pewsham to collapse under the pressure of the storm water. The team have been quick to get the complete rebuild started  and securing £10k from the Yorkshire Building Society’s Lasting Legacy Fund will see the work completed (weather permitting) in the near future.

Appointment of MasterPlanning advisor – work started on Melksham and Swindon business plans and securing of £40k commercial sponsorship.

None of this could happen without the hard work of the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust volunteer team – so thank you to everyone for your continuing contribution.


So what of 2015? – even more progress in prospect - some likely candidates:

Melksham Link

-planning consent

-business plan

Studley  Grange

-funding application

-contract placed

-work starts
Pewsham Locks
-Top Lock -volunteer led rebuild starts leading to next phase  of a rebuilt cottage as a canal side cafĂ©


-landing stage

-canal link project agreed


Swindon Town Centre business plan


Wishing you a Merry Christmas  and a Happy New Year – the blog team are off for a short break - so we will update you next on January 12th


Ken Oliver




Monday, 15 December 2014

A big boost for Studley Grange Project

Last week Chris and I had the pleasure to sign the lease from BIFFA for the kilometre of canal at Studley Grange, Royal Wootton Bassett. The lease is for 125 years for a peppercorn rent.  Thank you to all those at BIFFA who made this possible.  The Trust have been working  towards this for many years and I think you could raise a glass of something seasonal to celebrate!  Along with the planning permission that we achieved this summer and the People’s Millions success we are almost ready to get on with the restoration.  

Normally things slow down as Christmas approaches but not at team Wilts & Berks.  Work is continuing on several fronts – a meeting was held on Friday with the Leader of Vale of the White Horse  to discuss the new Local plan and look at the possibilities of a Master Plan for the Vale.

Thursday was our three-monthly Partnership meeting where partners were informed of the progress on projects that has been made over the year.  The Towpath Challenge was also discussed and it was noted that following the project manager’s departure, progress had stalled. Opening the towpath is essential to future restoration and so it was decided that this should be given more priority in 2015. We will try to set up a small team to take it forward.

2015 will also see a push on increasing the membership of the Trust. One of our members is pulling together representatives from the branches to form a team so expect to hear from them in the New Year with their plans. Our membership stands at 2580 at the moment. 

We are keen on developing our connections with the business community in Swindon, and as part of that we have joined Business West, which is associated with the Chambers of Commerce in the South West.  Chris and Ken attended one of their quarterly meetings last week, at which business community leaders have the opportunity to meet the MPs for Swindon, and the leader of Swindon Borough Council.  At last week's meeting Justin Tomlinson, the MP for Swindon North, gave an interesting update on the Chancellor's Autumn Statement, and David Renard, Leader of SBC, outlined some of the current priorities and preoccupations of the Council.  Chris was invited (with no notice!) to give the group an update of what was happening along the line of the canal; he focused on the major progress at Melksham including the very great economic benefits that we expect, and on the Studley Wildlife Trail.  We see this as a valuable forum for raising the profile of the Wilts & Berks with the Swindon business community, who will in the long run benefit enormously from the canal and associated development.

 Kath Hatton

Monday, 8 December 2014

A Quieter Week - but still plenty going on

After all the excitement last week of winning the two funding grants, it was time to revert to the more normal situation of quietly making progress as best we can.  Part of that is the need for what sometimes seems a never-ending round of meetings.  This week for example we have: a Project Board meeting, which approves new projects and monitors progress on current ones; a Finance Committee meeting where directors meet regularly to review overall activity and make decisions which cannot wait for a full Council meeting; and, a meeting of the Wiltshire Swindon and Oxfordshire Canal Partnership.  This organisation brings together a large number of organisations which want to foster the restoration of the canal.  Like every organisation, we are trying to find ways to reduce the number of meetings, and to use efficient modern methods to reduce the travelling and time involved.

However the team working on the Cocklemore Brook culvert will not be wasting any time in spending the grant from Yorkshire Building Society, I am sure.

Now that we have secured £50,000 for the Studley Wildlife Trail, the Trust is looking for a Project Leader to run it, and an ad for this will be appearing in the next edition of Dragonfly.  It will be a part-time opportunity, starting from February 2015 running to December 2015.  Some remuneration is available.  The person will need good communication skills as they will be working with local community groups, schools, other volunteer groups, Wiltshire Wildlife Trust and Friends of the Earth.  An interest in wildlife and ecology is also important.  As the dredging programme for the Studley Grange landfill site will be running in the Spring, there will also be a need to work with the overall Project management and contractors and to slot into their timescales. 

Our application for planning permission and Listed Building consent for some initial works at the Peterborough Arms has been submitted, and Dave Stirling is maintaining close contact with the officers in Wiltshire Council to shepherd it through as smoothly as possible.  We have also identified a list of tasks that can be carried out by volunteers, and the team are organising a work-day to complete them.

I was going to remind you that the Santa trips are running, and urge any of you with children or grand-children to take advantage of these super opportunities for an unusual day out.  But it is too late!  I am delighted to say that they are fully booked.  This is a really terrific achievement by the boat team, involving a lot of work to organise the trips: take all the bookings; find skippers, crews and Santas; prepare individual presents for every child; as well as the sheer hard work of running up to five separate trips per day.  All in all, a great advertisement for the Trust, and a great contribution by the team.

Chris Coyle


Monday, 1 December 2014

An exciting and successful week

Just  in case this is the only news you see about the Wilts & Berks, last  week  saw  the conclusion of two very successful funding applications.  The Studley Wildlife Trail was awarded £50k from the Big Lottery People’s Millions, and £10k was confirmed  from The Yorkshire Building Society Lasting Legacy Fund for repairs to the Cocklemore Brook Culvert at Pewsham.
Both these grants, having made a final shortlist, were totally  dependent on a public vote, so a further sincere thank you to all who voted and persuaded others to vote -  this really was a superb Team Wilts & Berks effort, reflected by the results.  The publicity from the People’s Millions certainly created much interest nationally in the Wilts & Berks and we are working on ways to  capitalise on this for the future.  It would be remiss of me not to mention Kath’s work in all this as Fundraising Director for the Trust.  Just simply finding appropriate funding programmes is difficult enough, but then add the hours of form filling and finding the right way to present the project in the application is somewhere between a skill and an art form, so I take this opportunity of recording my thanks and ‘a well done’!

The frenzy of publicity on Wednesday somewhat overshadowed the meeting  of the Trust’s Council of Management on the previous night where the Directors heard a presentation from Max Crofts on behalf of the Land Team who have been working hard to progress acquisition of the canal.  A number of members of the Foxham & Lyneham Branch attended the meeting to hear the resolution of a number of issues regarding the purchase of land at Seven Locks.  Part of further discussion at CoM was the necessary changes that will happen next year to the structure of the Trust to reflect  the start of major projects like the Melksham Link.  This was the last meeting to be held at the Civic Centre at Royal Wootton Bassett, where CoM have met for many years, as its doors are closing at the end of the year as part of the Town Council’s plans for redevelopment.  We all look forward to a new home at the Peterborough Arms in 2015.

So as the dust settles after last week’s excitement, time to refocus.  We will be meeting soon with project partners Wiltshire Wildlife Trust and Friends of the Earth to discuss the implementation of the Wildlife Trail, and of course there is still so much work to do at Studley Grange to restore the canal - a revised tender has just been issued to contractors and we will be seeking further third party funding for the projec  to commence next spring.

Ken Oliver  

Monday, 24 November 2014

Keeping CRT and IWA up-to-date on the Wilts & Berks Project

The Trust has always known that it cannot complete this project alone which is why our Partnership was set up for support.  Now that Canal & River Trust (CRT) is a charity itself, it has become much more interested in canal restoration and has linked with Inland Waterways Association (IWA) to give active support to groups tackling such projects.  The Wilts & Berks Canal is definitely of interest as it forms such an important part of the future Southern Canals Network.

One morning last week Chris and I met with two senior representatives from IWA to discuss a wide range of current Wilts & Berks issues. Several helpful suggestions came out of those discussions including introducing a maintenance policy for restored sections – something that we have wanted to do for some time and have been looking for a person to organise it. Another topic was the setting up of an asset register, listing all our structures and their current state.  This has already been discussed within our branches as a branch inventory and would be very helpful for the future Masterplan of the canal. The Scott Wilson feasibility report done in 1998 was a comprehensive study of the whole canal and will form the backbone of any Register.

I also attended an evening event at Newbury along with Ken and Jock. This was a reception organised by the Kennet & Avon Waterway Partnership for CRT. It was a chance to meet CRT Directors and Trustees and tell them all about our plans and current projects. It was all very well received and very interesting to meet the Trustees who come from a wide range of business backgrounds.

Just two days to go to our People’s Millions final on Wednesday 26th November. Please vote for the Studley Wildlife Trail to secure £50,000 for the Trust.  The telephone numbers (one landline and one mobile) will be on ITV West Country news bulletins, in the Daily Mirror, the People’s Millions website  and on our own website in the morning .

I have the final figures for the Grand draw – we made  over £4000 from tickets and associated donations this year which will go towards  our second trip boat. A great effort and many thanks to all those who bought and sold tickets.  I now have to look for the rest of the money for the boat!

This week we have our bi-monthly Council of Management meeting with a full agenda as usual. Other meetings planned include one for the fundraising team to start the process of a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund for full restoration of Pewsham Locks complex that includes the Dry Dock,
an outdoor classroom in the old carpenter’s workshop, saw-pit and lime kiln. 

Kath Hatton

Monday, 17 November 2014

This week has naturally had a lot of attention devoted to our forthcoming appearance on ITV, and the chance for the Trust to win £50,000 in the popular vote. This is really important to us, in two ways. First we stand a chance of winning a significant contribution to the cost of transforming the landfill site at Studley Grange into an amenity for community as the Studley Wildlife Trail – and second it will be great publicity for the project overall, whether we win or lose (though we want to win!).
Please, this a low cost way of supporting the Trust, so we would ask you to please make yourselves familiar now with what will happen on the day –
Wednesday 26th November.
All the details are on or website and you can find out more on the People’s Millions site:

Jenny Stratton has been building the publicity campaign. We have been very encouraged by the support we are receiving in this from other waterways organisations. Our friends and neighbours the Cotswold Canals Trust and the K&A are putting their members’ weight behind it, and both IWA and CRT are publicising it on our behalf.
Put the date in your diary, for telephone voting on the day - Wednesday 26th November.
And the behind the scenes work? Well it started on Monday with a day’s filming for the programme. Kath and I were interviewed for the film, talking about the project in general and the Studley site in particular. We are very grateful to Val Melville and Stewart Parsons for organising a group of children from a local school to come to Pewsham, and be filmed finding out about the wildlife that our canal already supports. We are also grateful to the work party teams at Pewsham and Royal Wootton Basset, who responded to a call for a special work day, so that the restoration activities could also be featured in the film.

On Tuesday, a very strong team consisting of Trust directors plus Jock Mackenzie, Ken Oliver, and representatives of Visit Wiltshire, Land and Water Services Ltd, Wiltshire Wildlife Trust and Barker Langham, presented our ideas for the very exciting Melksham Link development to councillors from Melksham Town Council and Melksham Without Parish Council. The purpose of the meeting was for us to inform them of our plans, rather than for them to give any formal opinion, but it seemed to us that their reaction was very positive.

On Wednesday I went to visit IWA Warwickshire branch in Coventry, to bring them up to date on what is happening on the Wilts & Berks; they were very impressed by the scale of what we are now aiming to achieve.

On Thursday we welcomed two senior members of the management team from Hall and Woodhouse to the Peterborough Arms. They spent the whole morning with us, having a look at the pub and our plans for what to do with it. It was extraordinarily helpful to be able to benefit from all the years of practical experience that they brought with them. Lots of good ideas (and a few bad ones that we all had a laugh over), leading us to modify our current thinking in one or two important ways. We are grateful to them.

And Friday? We all went back to pile of emails and other tasks that awaited us after all the activity. Looking forward to whatever next week brings which includes some further key technical meetings on the Melksham Link and an opportunity to meet the Trustees from CRT when they visit Newbury.

Chris Coyle