Wessex Waterways Restoration Trust

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Luke's thoughts...............

    Saturday afternoon, 22 September, was the date of the public launch of the Wessex Waterways Restoration Trust at Bushton Village Hall in Wiltshire.  It was a full house – somewhere between 50 and 60 people from as far afield as Bath and Wantage were there.  I felt that the event came together very smoothly – we’re a new organization.  The road signs were up at least an hour before the meeting was due to start, banners, display boards, presentation equipment and PA kit were all being set up by the time Justine and I arrived at about 12.30.  Justine acted as deputy to Ann O’Donoghue with a table with membership forms and pens for people to join us on the day.

    Jan Flanagan started the proceedings with the usual welcome and pointed out the fire exits, and then introduced a shortened form of a professional video – where consent had been obtained and WWRT people had done the work to achieve this 15-minute presentation explaining how volunteers working on waterway restoration emerged and expanded alongside the Inland Waterways Association’s movement bringing old waterways back into use for public benefit and enjoyment.

    The main presentation was a relaxed, occasionally light-hearted presentation focussing on the dates of the key events which have made the launch of WWRT possible.  It would be interesting to be able to compare our launch event with what the Wilts & Berks Canal Amenity Group did when they were formed about 40 years ago.  It was clear that WWRT has come a long way in not many months.  We got things together in time to attend our first IWA Waterways Festival, at St Neots in August, including our colour membership leaflet with a GDPR-compliant membership application form.

    I was able to present our first three projects on the ground – illustrated with pictures supplied by Doug Small, who had done a fine job transforming my few thoughts and a list of dates into a very smooth and easy-to-follow illustrated presentation.  The presentation mentioned the dialogue we have already established with the Cotswold Canals Trust (our neighbours at Latton).

    There was a good questions and answers session – including Nadia Smith asking about the relationship with the WBCT, and Eddie Thomas (WBCT Trustee) reading out their recent published statement welcoming our formation.  I was pleased to be able to report on how we made WBCT aware of our formation very promptly after hearing from the Charity Commission that they had allowed us to form.  If they had not, there would not be WWRT.  That notification had used the words to complement and not to compete – and it was good to get those words into the launch meeting.

     At the end of my presentation I felt a very warm round of applause, and a good number of people who attended took the opportunity to talk to me about participating in our work parties in the coming months.  I got a very strong sense that many people support what we are seeking to do, and understand why the formation of WWRT is necessary for the restoration of our canals to continue to progress.  A question was raised about the Jubilee Junction area at the eastern end of the canal – and I confirmed that WWRT was very interested in helping to get that area into a good maintenance regime.  Before long, WWRT will be submitting an application to ‘Awards for All’ for funds for a marquee that our publicity team can use when attending events next summer, plus some new powered equipment to make maintenance more effort-efficient plus a smart box trailer (with our logo clearly marked on it) to move that kit around.

    Questions were asked about whether WWRT had access to maintain Rachael Banyard’s sections of the canal at Dauntsey.  Negotiations between WBCT and the landowner are continuing and, hopefully, a positive solution to the current difficulties will soon be found.  In the meantime, the canal and towpath to the east are being maintained by WWRT members with Rachael’s permission.

   When we first discussed having a public launch meeting we wondered if it would prove necessary to arrange a follow-up event on the Oxfordshire end of the canal.  This does not appear to be necessary – several people from the eastern end of the canal made the journey to Bushton and I’m sure they will carry the message and communicate the WWRT vision to their colleagues.

    A particularly welcome message on the Friday evening just before the launch was an email from John Laverick – a Vice President, and former Chair, of the WBCT – welcoming our formation and communicating thoughts which virtually match my thoughts in forming WWRT.  He can see that WWRT can complement what the WBCT does – and that the Wiltshire, Swindon & Oxfordshire Canal Partnership should provide the forum where a formal and constructive dialogue can be established between WBCT, WWRT, and the other Partners which will achieve necessary co-ordination.

    I left the event confident in the WWRT people who had put the event together under the leadership of Jan Flan.  My thanks go to Ann, Carsten, Doug, Gary, Jan, Justine, Larry, Michael, Rosemary, Sarah, Sue and Vince.  As Justine and I drove home I felt very privileged to have such a capable and dedicated team on our side.  My sincere thanks go to them all – and to anyone I’ve not mentioned.