Monday, 31 March 2014

Steady Progress

Yesterday felt like the first day of Spring, so hope and optimism must be in the air.

As some of you will know, we are asking for members to send their loan pledges for the Peterborough Arms. We are working flat out on this project. We are very, very grateful to the people who have already made their contribution. If you would like to make a loan, please contact us. Similarly, if you would like to contribute but cannot commit to the loans we have asked for, then a donation of whatever amount would be very welcome. If you have not made a Gift Aid declaration, and can do so, then that is very helpful as we can reclaim extra for the tax you have paid, so we can claim an additional amount equal to 25 percent of your donation.

There is a lot going on in and around Swindon. We continue our discussions on the route back through the middle, and in the shorter term there are projects being worked on. It is very encouraging to see that the branch is re-organising; the next branch meeting is taking place tomorrow, at a new venue, the Broome Manor Golf Club at 7.30pm, so anyone interested in helping or simply finding out what is going on would be welcome.

This week will see the publication of the independent consultants study into the economic impacts of the new waterway at Melksham. This study, which was jointly funded by the Trust and our partners Wiltshire Council and Melksham Town Council, is expected to demonstrate a positive impact. We look forward to the full results!

Following on from the major success of the Heritage Days organised jointly with Chippenham Museum in February, the next note for you diaries is the two open days on the canalside at Pewsham, on 20th and 21st June. The first day is aimed at schoolchildren, and I am delighted to say that we are already fully booked. The Saturday is open day for the whole community. We are very pleased to have Heritage Lottery funding for these events.

Chris Coyle

Monday, 24 March 2014

Funding - Boat Trips - Awards & Projects

Dauntsey Lock Visitor Centre (Peterborough Arms) once again is coming into sharp focus - an offer has been made to purchase from the owners, and accepted, but as with most things the devil is in the detail. The Trust needs to demonstrate that it has the ability to purchase, so very shortly the loan appeal will be re-launched with a call on pledges already made, and an appeal for additional funding.

In trying to progress restoration of the Wilts & Berks, getting ‘shovel ready’ projects has been one of the objectives of the last year Two schemes are now getting very close to this status - Pewsham Locks near Chippenham and the Templars Firs Extension at Royal Wootton Bassett; both have planning consent and the project teams met (separately) last week to decide how to get work started.

Two further projects are coming into the spotlight. Studley Grange at Royal Wootton Bassett is in the process of assessment of the planning application submitted in January– as ever dealing with the current occupants (the wildlife!) on the site is challenging. Similar issues have delayed progress at Mouldon Hill Swindon but with suitable mitigation proposals agreed a planning application for the site will be forthcoming shortly.

The boating season is fast approaching and Boat Manager Mike Lang has made some proposals to upgrade the facilities for Narrowboat Dragonfly. This in addition to the ongoing discussions with Swindon Borough Council to build the Wichelstowe Link. One of the first trips of the season will be around the opening ceremony on April 10th of the new canalside Waitrose store. Regular public trips start the following Saturday 12th and will run on Saturday and Sunday throughout the year.

Time is running out for applications for this year’s Living Waterways Awards so if you think we have something worthy of nomination let Chris, Kath, or me know as soon as possible please.

Finally to note that Trust Directors/Trustees meet this Tuesday at the bi-monthly Council of Management.

Ken Oliver

Monday, 17 March 2014

Glorious weather and lots to look forward to.

The AMEC report on the economic and tourism benefits to Melksham from the Melksham Link is eagerly awaited by many – it is drafted and should be available by the end of the month. It will help to raise the profile of the Wilts & Berks and hopefully will boost our fundraising. These days much funding is based on how many jobs can be created and this report will tell us that and more.

Timothy West and Prunella Scales did a great job of promoting canals in their programme on the Kennet & Avon Canal last week. It really is that busy on some of the stretches of the K & A, can’t wait for Melksham to be the same in a few years time.

The plans to link the new canal at Wichelstowe and the old line at Kingshill are well underway with costs being worked out. I hear it is to be called the Wichelstowe Link. I’m looking forward to the new Waitrose store opening there on the 10th April, I will be able to do my shopping after meetings at Spittleborough! The cafĂ© will have splendid views of the canal and what a boost it will be for trips on Dragonfly. There are other projects that could be started in Swindon, we just need a few more volunteers to lead them. You don’t have to have specific qualifications or be an engineer, we work in teams with a good deal of expertise on hand so the leader is not working alone. Come and talk to us!

Jeff and Linda have again organised the 200 Club this year and they report that 256 tickets have been sold, a few more than last year. As usual half the takings go into prizes and half into a fund for the branches who will be able to apply for money towards a piece of equipment or a restoration project. The first draw will be made at Council of Management meeting on 25th March. Thank you Jeff and Linda for all your hard work.
I hope all this lovely dry weather is helping to reduce the water level in that damaged culvert at Pewsham so that we can fully inspect it and work out the best way to repair it as soon as possible.

Kath Hatton

Monday, 10 March 2014

Spring Optimism

Well, maybe. We have lots of reasons to appreciate the arrival of Spring over the weekend, but one or two clouds about as well. There is lots of good news and progress, even if the latter is not as fast as we would like. First of all, we have made an offer to Wadworth for the purchase of the Peterborough Arms at Dauntsey Lock. They have accepted it subject to us guaranteeing an early completion, which we feel unable to do, so they have felt obliged to put it back on the market. We are continuing with the process despite that. Kath Hatton and I took the opportunity of a fine day last week to go and visit the Wey and Arun Canal Trust. They have a very active canal restoration under way, and we wanted to see what we could learn, what we had in common, and what they do differently. In terms of things in common, there were lots of similarities; they too have landowner issues, and not enough money (of course). Their group of active volunteers is perhaps a little larger than ours, in proportion to their membership. We were interested to learn how they organise themselves differently; their canal is much shorter than ours, so there is no branch structure, and they seem to organise themselves round themes rather than geographically. They also seem to have a good track record in attracting sponsorship to pay for things like vehicles and plant hire. They have focused their efforts at Loxwood, where there is a busy pub by a main road, a trip boat operation, and a modern visitor centre. In the meantime we make progress on other projects and fronts, but more of that another time. Chris Coyle

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Spring just around the corner..somebody please tell the weather!

The last week of February has seen no let up in the pace of the continuing work of planning- in all senses of the word. Friday was a concentrated ‘Swindon day’ where Kath Chris and myself were pleased to welcome Richard Parry the newly appointed Chief Executive of the Canal & River Trust. In weather that we have become all too familiar with this winter we toured the canal at East Wichel followed by a whistle stop reconnoitre of the route into the town centre. We hope that this visit will lead to further co-operation with CRT to deliver the Wilts & Berks restoration as an important part of a new southern canals network. The Bayberry Public House was our temporary site office for the day as the morning meeting with Richard was swiftly followed by a meeting with the new Wichelstowe Waitrose manager Simon Adkins. Waitrose are pleased to have their newest store (opening April) located on the canalside and are keen to work with WBCT to explore activity on the water. Chris not only ended the week in Swindon but started there too with further discussions with the branch team about the new canal and the proposed project to link East Wichel canal to Westleaze ( Wichelstowe Link) at the earliest opportunity. All the Trust project managers came together on Tuesday night to discuss progress and plans at the bi- monthly Trust Project Board. To assist the team we are currently liaising with two new volunteers who we hope will be able to take up the role of project support officers. Work on the new slipway at Melksham continues and we hope that the river levels will stay low enough for the work to be completed shortly. Elsewhere comments on the planning application for the restoration at Studley Grange close this week (4th)- you can comment via the North Wiltshire planning section of searching for reference 14/00914. Finally we three have been found out! The title of the Blog is the Wilts & Berks weekly but so far this year we have managed only fortnightly . We have resolved to do better ..only time will tell....Ken Oliver