Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Clocks go back -restoration marches on

With autumn well upon us  the Land & Water  team are now working towards the finishing line at Studley  Grange reporting works 80% completed. Kate Jones (project officer for the wildlife trail) is lining up a big team of local volunteers to start work on planting and installation of bat and bird boxes and interpretation boards as soon as the towpath surface is completed  and the site  is handed back  to the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust.

The Project Board met this week  to review progress on current projects and this time to  appoint Sheila Wade as Project Manager for 7 Locks and to approve the scope for  a project  that  will initially manage the current site and go on to  seek planning permissions to complete Locks 1-5.

Following the AGM approval for the change in management structure for WBCT details of the proposals are being discussed  with an aim to create an executive team as soon as possible.

...and finally – great news from the Boat Team -this year’s Santa trips are 80% booked already  and the work on skew bridge is due to be completed shortly, the scaffolding removed  and the canal reopened to allow trips back to Kingshill.

 Ken Oliver

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Annual General Meeting 2015 – Biggest yet

On Saturday the Trust held its twenty-seventh AGM at the Memorial Hall in Royal Wootton Bassett.  And it has to have been the biggest yet.  In the morning Members had the chance to visit the local work sites at Templars Firs, Chaddington, and Studley Grange.  The general reaction was delight at the progress being made in these areas.  In particular there was a surprised sense of how big the project at Studley Grange is – this is real engineering on a real canal!

When it came to the meeting itself, the hall was packed.  We had 162 members signed in, plus guests.  When you think that last year we had 123, it makes you realise how much support the members want to give, and how much interest they are showing in what is happening.
The Mayor and Mayoress of Royal Wootton Bassett were kind enough to visit us for the start of the meeting, and the mayor made some very encouraging remarks, recognising the canal as a great example of community involvement.
We then had most interesting presentations from our new Chairman, Roderick Bluh, and new Chief Executive, Jonathan Till.  Both recognised the scale of the task facing us, but set out how they intended to go about moving the project forward.  After a brief summary of the principles behind the proposed re-organisation of the Trust from me, Ken Oliver introduced the revised Restoration Strategy that the Trust has adopted.  He emphasised that it should become the essential guide to what we are doing and how we do it, but also that it has to be a living document, changing to take account of changing circumstances.  Finally Jock MacKenzie gave us an update on his overall progress in Masterplanning the canal, with particular reference to the very substantial progress on the Melksham Link.  He also gave some hints of some very exciting new projects in the pipeline.
With those talks done, we moved on to the formal business of the meeting.  Apart from the routine business of approving accounts etc, the meeting was asked to approve some changes in the Memorandum and Articles.  Some were ‘housekeeping’, but a number were necessary to enable the planned re-organisation to go ahead; members listened carefully to the explanation of the reasons behind this.  We moved on to the elections, and while the votes were being counted members had an opportunity in ‘Open Forum’ to ask any questions they liked, about the Trust and the canal.
Those directors retiring in rotation, and co-opted during the year, were all re-elected with substantial majorities.  Similarly the changes to the Articles were all accepted with large majorities.  That enables us to go ahead with the necessary changes, but we did emphasise that having accepted the principle of the re-organisation, there is still a great deal of detail to be worked out.  For that reason we are planning to hold another General Meeting some time early in the new year at which further changes to the Articles will be made if necessary, and members will have the chance to endorse overall the final shape of the re-organised Trust.
A large selection of Trust merchandise was on sale at the venue including new Christmas cards and calendars and a total of £907 was taken on the day. For anyone else wishing to buy cards and calendars contact Diana Hunter on  or see details in Dragonfly magazine.  
The winning tickets for the Restoration Draw were drawn by our Chairman Roderick Bluh and all winners will be notified this week.
I would particularly like to thank Jenny Stratton and the members of the Wootton Basset branch for hosting the event, and for the smooth organisation of the day, as well as the Administration team who worked hard in the background.
In the meantime of course the business of the Trust continues, and good progress has been made in a number of areas in the recent past, but I will leave it to next week’s blogger to bring you updates.

Chris Coyle



Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Awards publicity and the AGM

A group of 10 from the Trust attended the Living Waterways Awards in London on Thursday night as we were shortlisted in the Education and Learning Category for the Heritage Open days that were run last year at Pewsham by Val Melville and the team from MCC.  Though we were not able to capture the top prize in the category, we were proud to be commended by the judges.  There was some disappointment, but we were honoured to be there and it was a very enjoyable evening in a superb venue at the Church House Conference Centre in Westminster.  It was particularly interesting to see details of all the projects that were up for Awards. Our sister restoration, the Cotswold Canals, managed to secure a well-deserved top prize in the category of Restoration and Historic Environment for the 5km around Stroud that has been transformed over the past few years.

Today Andrew Denny, assistant editor of Waterways World, came to visit the Wilts & Berks as he is writing an article on our progress for the next edition of the magazine. I showed him round some sites in the West and then he was meeting up with Ken for a look at Studley Grange and Wichelstowe.  Should be good publicity.

This week there will be lots of preparation for the AGM to be held next Saturday at the Memorial Hall, Royal Wootton Bassett. It promises to be a busy meeting with presentations by Chairman Rod Bluh, CEO Jonathan Till, Master Planner Jock Mackenzie and Ken Oliver. It will be a chance for members to meet the new people on the team and to hear about the plans for the next few years.  There will be an opportunity to buy Trust Christmas Cards and calendars and other merchandise. The actual AGM starts at 2pm but if you come in the morning there will be a chance to be driven round to Studley Grange for a look over the fence or to be dropped off for a longer walk from Templars Firs for those more energetic souls.

Hope to meet lots of you on Saturday


Kath Hatton

Monday, 5 October 2015

A Different Dragonfly Cruise – and an Event to Look Forward to

On Saturday I had the pleasure of acting as second crew on Dragonfly, on what was an absolutely splendid autumn day.  The canal looked very attractive, and the trees were beginning to take on their autumnal colours.  The first two journeys were in some senses quite ‘normal’, i.e. families out for an adventure, doing something that some of them had never done before, and enjoying a canal boat trip; for some of them it was a novelty to discover (as so many people do) that there is a canal less than a mile from the centre of Swindon.  So that was in itself very enjoyable, and a great success.
The second part of the day was something different, for me at least – a society or group chartering Dragonfly, to give a different setting to their activities.  Poetry Swindon had chartered the boat for the afternoon as part of their week-long Poetry Swindon Festival 2015, and invited their members to come along and listen to poetry being read as the boat cruised gently along.  They had invited a very well-known poet, Jo Bell, to read some of her poems.  She is the Canal Laureate of the UK, appointed by the Poetry Society and Canal and River Trust.  Jo also has the very great advantage of having lived for the past twelve years on a boat at Honeystreet on the Kennet and Avon Canal, so she was able to set her poems in a proper boating context. 
We reckon that we had something over thirty visitors to the festival come along, so we ran three short trips to make sure they all had a chance to experience the poetry and the canal.  Again, it was fascinating to see their reaction – first of all to the canal, the boat and the lovely surrounding, and second to the idea of actually living on a boat – they plied Jo with many questions, since for some it was a new idea.  So, all in all, a very successful day, and one that showed the value of Dragonfly, in a new way.

And the event to look forward to?  This coming Thursday, Canal and River Trust are presenting their Living Waterways Awards, and we have been shortlisted for the Education and Learning Category for the work organised by Val Melville and the rest of the MCC branch for the very successful Heritage Open days at Pewsham last summer and the February half-term activity days at the Chippenham Museum which are still continuing.  A number of us are going to the event, and we wish Val and her team every success.

Chris Coyle