Monday, 30 June 2014

Volunteer Award for the Trust

Last week Involve Swindon held a 10th anniversary celebration and the Trust was invited to attend. Involve Swindon works with companies to encourage their employees to volunteer for local community projects. Rod Hacker as Chair of Swindon branch attended and was presented with a special recognition award for the number of local volunteers from companies that we use on the canal. Special mention was made of Ray’s continued efforts and the flexibility and co-operation he shows in dealing with volunteer opportunities. The actual Award will be displayed in the shop. Well done Swindon!

The week before, Ken, Chris and myself attended a Business Expo in Chippenham organised by the Economic Development department of Wiltshire Council. A good number of local businesses and some community organisations were in attendance and our stall generated some good interest. It really felt as if the Trust “had arrived on the scene” if you understand what I mean!

I had an interesting morning at the National Trust headquarters in Swindon on Thursday – their head of legacy fundraising had invited myself and a couple of other fundraisers from local charities to learn a little from their more experienced team. There are some surprising statistics about legacies – although 74% of the UK population support charities whilst living, only 7% leave something to charity in their wills. It would only take a 4% increase in that figure to generate an extra £1 billion pounds for good causes. Enough of stats, suffice to say that I learnt a few things that will emerge in our literature soon. I think the most important thing is to note that people give support in different ways. Some prefer to donate, some to become members and some to leave a legacy. And all need to be looked after.

A disappointment this week with the Melksham River Festival plans for September – we failed to get the grant from Big Lottery’s Awards for All. Don’t worry, we are meeting tomorrow night to come up with plan B – the show will go on. As I walked the dogs along the towpath at Semington in the sunshine this morning, I was amazed at the number of boats, cyclists and walkers – can’t wait until they can all turn up to Melksham along the Wilts & Berks.

Kath Hatton

Monday, 23 June 2014

A Terrific Event

Last Friday and Saturday the MCC branch of the Trust organised a terrifically successful event based on the theme of Sharing Heritage Days.
The first part of this event actually took place in February, at Chippenham Museum. 
Children were invited to come into the Museum for a week of activities based on the canal, including making model narrow boats, tying knotted key rings and painting canalware.  This proved very attractive, and many more children came than the Museum had expected.
Val Melville, who master-minded the whole event with the enthusiastic support of the whole branch, then organised two days of activities at Pewsham Locks.  This site is a key part of the Trust's plans, as it has a good deal of industrial archaeological interest, as well as being ideally suited as an education resource centre.

On Friday, Val arranged for parties of children from four schools in the Chippenham area to be taken to the site.  There they had a great day, listening to Trust members playing the roles of people associated with the canal, and telling their stories.  There were also hands-on activities for the children, giving them a taste of a number of the different trades associate with the canal, from brick-making to metalworking.  The sight of small children using a long double-handed saw was something to behold! There were a number of people talking about traditional crafts such as spinning and lace-making, which were important on the canal.

On Saturday the site was open to the general public, and a steady stream of visitors came to see what was happening, as well as the passers-by in the form of walkers and cyclists.  Part of the funding for the activities had come from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and we were very pleased to welcome Cherry Ann Knott from  HLF (South West), who came to visit, and stayed three hours!  She was very impressed by a number of aspects of the event, including the strong educational elements, which she saw as very important.  She also thought the collaboration with the Museum was a good thing; I know from talking to Museum staff that they are intending to continue to feature the canal in their displays, and would be willing to work with us again. 

All in all, a very, very successful event. Congratulations and sincere thanks to Val and all the team who  made the day so memorable.

Chris Coyle

Monday, 16 June 2014

Partners Peterborough Arms Pewsham & Melksham

Last  week the Wiltshire Swindon & Oxfordshire Canal  Partnership  held its quarterly  meeting  and   a wide  range  of  restoration issues were  discussed.
Following the success so  far  of the Towpath Challenge there was much encouragement  for the Trust  to  recruit a  new project  manager  to  follow up the excellent  work done by Tim Pyatt.
The challenges of  restoring  the  Wilts  &  Berks in and around Swindon were also highlighted  following the completion of  the Examination in Public  of Swindon Borough Council' s Local Plan.

If you  had  thought  that  all  had gone quiet about  the purchase of the Peterborough Arms I am delighted  to report  that the Trust has reached agreement in principle on the deal.  As ever with a property purchase  much detailed discussion on the sales contract still continues and we hope to bring more news shortly.  Regarding finance there is still an opportunity to help with the funding scheme-  please see the Trust  web site for more details.

The Melksham Link  project  team met on Tuesday  to  get updates  from project  manager Paul Lenaerts  on  the detailed work that is going on to satisfy the requirements for  the Environment Statement that will be submitted as part of the planning application.

We are all hoping that the current settled spell of  weather will continue over next weekend when the Canal Heritage days  will  be held at Pewsham Locks near Chippenham. A joint event with Chippenham museum , and funded by the Heritage Lottery  Fund , over two  days  schools (Friday) and then the local community (Saturday)  will be able to find out why  this site was so important to  the operation of the canal.

Ken Oliver

Monday, 9 June 2014

Publicity and more publicity

Lots of good publicity this week for the Melksham Link with the release of the story of the economic and tourism benefits that the canal will bring to Melksham.  Chris has been on the radio a couple of times, the story featured on ITV West Country News and all the local papers have covered it too in print and on their websites.  Social media has been buzzing with the story too.

Watch out for more stories soon – the HLF funded Open Days at Pewsham are drawing  close – Friday June 20th for the school children and Saturday 21st June for the general public. The small committee, led by Val Melville, have been working very hard on preparations  and I think everyone will be impressed at their professionalism.  One of the most interesting aspects will be the stories that have been researched of the canal people who lived and worked in this area when the canal was flourishing. I understand that our Patron was interested to hear about the event even though she is not able to attend. I have promised some photos.

Preparations also quite advanced for the Melksham River Festival on 6th and 7th September which will commemorate the abandonment 100years ago. We have tested the slipway which is nearing completion and managed to float Damselfly off  the trailer. Dragonfly will be brought from Swindon  and craned into the river and I am sure will be quite an attraction. There will be Wilderness boats and steam boats and all kinds of events on land and in the river.

At Studley Grange we are close to agreeing a lease from Biffa and planning consent is imminent. The Trust has been working on preparation at this site for a number of years and so it is exciting to be able to see that we are getting close to excavating this very attractive kilometre of canal.

I’m off for a week’s rest in France so au revoir for now.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

The Benefits of the Melksham Link

Coming into focus this week is the independent consultants' study that we commissioned into the economic and tourism benefits of the Melksham Link.  We always felt that the link would give a boost to the regeneration of the town, but we needed confirmation of this.  With others we commissioned AMEC Environment & Infrastructure UK Limited to carry out an independent assessment.  We have received their report, and are beginning to publicise it.

We are hoping to create 5 kilometres of navigable waterway to include new locks, bridges, a towpath and cycleway, together with visitor mooring, landscaping, environmental improvements and even a hydro-electric power scheme.
The AMEC assessment is that the building of the Link will have benefits in both the short and long term.  During construction there will be up to 250 jobs, with local employment and training opportunities.  

Depending on the assumptions about how much traffic that will come off the Kennet and Avon Canal to Melksham, the direct visitor spend could be between £0.75million and £2.7 million per year, creating 20 to 75 new full-time jobs.  These jobs would in turn inject a further £0.5 to ££1.7 million into the local economy.

The canal will be linked to residential and commercial development in the town.  AMEC estimated that there would be 620 additional residential units, and 6,250 square metres of retail floorspace.  Since Melksham is considering its housing development in any event, these new houses could fit very well into the plans for the town.  And of course there would be the well-known positive effect on property values from the 'waterside premium'.

Overall, from both tourism and regeneration, there could be up to 430 net additional jobs.  There would be an injection of up to £7.5 million per year into the local economy, equivalent to £55 million over ten years at present values.

So, an excellent story for the positive results of the canal restoration.  However we are not there yet of course!  The stage we have reached is that we have submitted an application for  planning permission, and are working our way the questions that have been raised about the project as part of that process.  We are hoping to clear all of that within this year.  There is also a lot of work to do bringing together all the interested parties in the development side of the equation, but this new assessment clearly shows how it could transform the fortunes of the entire town.

While the report is devoted mainly to the economic impact, it also describes some of the social and environmental benefits.  Not only would we be offering a new amenity for boaters, canoeists, walkers, runners, cyclists and anglers, but also a new wildlife corridor with wetland areas and hedgerows which would offset their national decline in recent years, proving new habitats for otters, water voles and kingfishers.

Such a safe and scenic route between local towns and villages would also reduce the number of local car journeys and encourage more active and healthy lifestyles.

Everyone benefits.

Chris Coyle