Tuesday, 26 May 2015

A week in which to draw breath.

The bank holidays in this month seem to have taken people’s attention away from canal related matters.  It seemed a relatively quiet time last week, after all the excitement of the previous week when we appointed a new Chairman.  That will be formally confirmed (hopefully) at the Council of Management meeting this week.  We are really looking forward to working with Roderick Bluh, and benefitting from his experience.

Work has started on the new landing stage at Wichelstowe, right in front of the Swindon Waitrose.  Well done Rod Hacker and his team for getting this through all the necessary processes.  We are really looking forward to having it available as soon as possible, and being able to start our trips from a purpose-built landing stage, with convenient parking for the passengers – and the chance to do the shopping as part of the trip!

Speaking of the boat, Rob and Sue had managed to build up a very good team of skippers and crew.  But inevitably with the passage of time some of the team are no longer able to take as much part as they used to.  So Rob and Sue are looking for new people to come and join the team.  The trip boat is very important for the Trust in many ways.  It generates income, of course, but just as importantly it is a great advert for the Trust and the restoration of the canal.  It is a very valuable reminder of the work being done to restore the canal for the benefit of the community.  So if you feel able to put in some time as a volunteer skipper or crew, please do make contact with Robert Yeowell (robyeo19@yahoo.co.uk) or Sue Paine (sue.paine@wbct.org.uk)

The Melksham Link project continues to make progress, and we have a start date for the main contract at Studley Grange of June 8th.  That really will be a red-letter day for the Trust.
So, a lot to look forward to as the pace picks up again.

Chris Coyle


Monday, 18 May 2015

A New Chairman for the Trust

The most exciting news of the week is the forthcoming appointment of Roderick Bluh as Chairman of the Wilts & Berks. We are all very much looking forward to working with Rod – it is such a busy time with so much going on.  He will be able to bring his expertise to the re-organisation of the Trust and it is just the right time for the projects that are unfolding all along the canal.  Rod already knows the project quite well and as a previous Leader of Swindon Council, has a lot of local knowledge about the town.  I hope that I will now have more time for fundraising – there is a lot to do.  We have been without a Chairman for 2 years and 8 months.

I am grateful to Dauntsey Parish Council for their contribution to the fund to update the toilet at the Peterborough Arms to one that is DDA compliant.  This should release the funds already agreed from Malmesbury Area Board.  Having met up with a member of the Peterborough Arms Cricket Club the other night, I have realised how much some of the local groups are missing the pub being open so it has inspired me to push on with fundraising for the restoration.  I am hoping that we can attract some European funding for part of it.

At Studley Grange preparations continue for the start of the work.  We hope it will be next month.  The appeal is doing well – just a few pounds under £10K at £9994.  Thank you to everyone who has donated – every pound counts.  Please keep them coming!  If in the unlikely event there is any spare, I shall put it to Chaddington Lane bridge, which is the next target, so we can connect the new stretch up to Chaddington Lock. 

This week the branch manager of the Bristol branch of the Yorkshire Building Society (YBS) is coming over to Pewsham to have a look at our progress with the culvert (YBS funded the work with a £10K grant) and to present us with our Lasting Legacy Award.  I hope he is as impressed as I was last time I was there – it looks amazing.  Ray Canter and his team are doing great work.  

Kath Hatton

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Some very visible activities ...

This has been an interesting week.  Some of the things we have been doing are very visible to members and the public; others not quite so much yet, though that will happen in time.

First of all, the public ones.  On Saturday I had the great pleasure and privilege of presenting Environment Partnership Awards to the 10th Chippenham Scout Group.  They have won the award by working with the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust on an environmental project.  As Simon Brown, their Scout Leader said, this is a tough badge to get.  The scouts have to identify a project, and a partner (us in this case), make contact, define the project, visit the sites, plan it in partnership, prepare risk assessments and ways of doing the work.  They also had to make contact with the Woodland Trust, who were good enough to supply the trees needed.  Then they needed to carry out the work, learning how to plant trees so that would be protected, and ‘take’.  Once they have done it, they then have to prepare reports and submit them to the partner organisation, and The Scout Association. 
The project that they identified and completed involved planting trees, at our worksites near Chippenham.  First of all they planted trees at the site north of the A4, where we are restoring the canal using a carefully prepare Habitat Management Plan, so their work fitted in very well.  Second, they planted the remaining trees at Pewsham Locks; in this case it was as a ‘holding nursery’ until we can move them to their final site.
Altogether it was a great project.  The scouts had clearly worked very hard on it, and had learned some valuable lessons.  From the point of view of the Trust, this was a great example of working with young people, and working in partnership for the long-term benefit of the whole community.
On Sunday it was the sponsored walk, organised by MCC branch.  This was as usual a success, particularly in involving people who had never previously visited the site.  There was an information tent, which also made some sales for fund-raising.  What particularly impressed a number of people was the work in progress of reconstructing the culvert carrying Cocklemore Brook under the canal. It really is a credit to the work party. I can confirm this because I saw it and photographed it on the previous day at the presentation to the scouts. The materials for the culvert restoration are being paid for by a £10K grant from Yorkshire Building Society(YBS). And when one of our members popped into a YBS office in Northumberland and mentioned that we had received a grant from them, it turned out that they had heard about “that tunnel” down South!”  
During the week there was a lot of less visible activity, including a great deal of effort being put into the Melksham Link MasterPlanning by Jock MacKenzie and the rest of the team.  At the same time we are thinking about the organisation and the structure of the Trust in order to be ready for the increasing level of project work that this will entail.  We hope to update you on this and other organisational developments in the near future.

Looking forward to this coming week, we are maintaining the dialogue with our friends and neighbours in the Cotswold Canals Trust.  They are very successful with their trust centre in Stroud, so we wanted to ‘pick their brains’ about this, this time with particular reference to how they deal with their trading and merchandising activities. 

Chris Coyle

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

An exciting week

There is certainly no doubt about the main news this week – the announcement of the imminent start of the restoration of 1.25km of the canal at Studley Grange (between Royal Wootton Bassett and Swindon).  We are all very grateful to Kath and the fundraising team for securing the largest ever single grant to the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust of just under £350k to make it possible.  WBCT still needs to complete the public appeal target of raising £25k (the total is currently just under £10k) so if you can help it would be much appreciated.
The main funders are the Viridor Credits, Underwood Trust, Big Lottery Fund, Inland Waterways Association and Wiltshire Council Royal Wootton Bassett & Cricklade Area Board.
There are still some more challenges ahead but it would seem the end of this very long road is in sight.
To give you  an idea of the complexity of this restoration, although the idea is simple - to excavate an infilled section of the canal and use the material to landscape the closed adjacent landfill site - the practical reality at Studley Grange has included the technical challenge of demonstrating to the landfill operator that the restored canal would not affect the integrity of the landfill clay cells, the subsequent lease negotiation, planning consent, protected species issues, and a construction design to reinstate the towpath eroded by a stream and to deal with the watercourse during construction.  You might begin to see from this that the design work was complex and the resulting technical solution set a huge target for fundraising!
A preliminary contract has been let with Land & Water Services Ltd and subject to final design considerations the main contract will be signed shortly with an aim to mobilise by the end of May.
I am looking forward to the work starting at the end of this month and although the site will not generally be accessible we hope that escorted visits will be possible.

You may have noticed that it’s the General Election on Thursday!  For the past few weeks WBCT has been trying to contact as many of the candidates in the ‘Wilts &  Berks  Constituencies’ as possible to try to get their views of the Wilts & Berks project.. The Trust has now published a summary of this information at http://www.wbct.org.uk/about-the-trust/trust-news/1354-election-2015

That’s probably enough excitement for one week!

Ken Oliver