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