Thursday, 27 August 2009

Has The Waterways Trust lost its way on purpose? Or by accident?

I would dearly love to see more money invested in the conservation, preservation and restoration of boats. I have long felt that too much is spent on adding more restored mileage to the canal system while the architecture, engineering works, boats and equipment fades into dust and mildew.

But will I give money to the new Waterways Trust Supporters Scheme? No.


No. The Waterways Trust lacks focus, lacks imagination, lacks a vision, trys to be the jack of all trades and is, unsurprisingly, master of none. I have no idea what the purpose of the Waterways Trust is. And that's after reading about it again on their website.

Over the last few years I have watched from the touchlines as many have expressed their anger at the inability of the Waterways Trust to adequately look after boats and equipment in its care.

We all appreciate that the Waterways Trust is in an uneviable position, but the reality is that their campaigns have been solely based upon the precept that supporters should just give money and let the Waterways Trust campaign with that money. There is little real attempt at society 'democracy' or transparency, so it is little wonder that so many are reluctant to give much - other than the entry fee at a museum. Currently, the Waterways Trust seems to function primarily as a clearing house for donations. The idea is that I donate and then the Trust decides where that money should go. How's about I give the money directly to the Cotswold restoration project, the Droitwich or the councils alongside the River Soar instead? Meanwhile - wake up guys!! -your museum collection is falling to pieces!!

Part of the problem is that The Waterways Trust probably believes its own press: lots of warm cuddly talk about 'partnership' but what does that mean? The Waterways Trust needs to sit down and decide what it is doing. They need focus, and that should, surely, be on the boats, equipment and engineering. That collection and the associated collected knowledge and skills of staff and volunteers is just too valuable to lose. Bluntly, the skills that they can contribute to the restoration of canals are probably only really valuable to those schemes because they are cheaper than the same skills provided by environmental and engineering consultancies. This means, in effect, that anyone donating to the Waterways Trust is simply subsidising those restoration schemes indirectly. It's not a sustainable business model.

The Trust should stop being a partnership. Period.
  • Start being a society devoted to the management, preservation, conservation and restoration of the boats, equipment and engineering of Britain's waterways.
  • Start fund-raising based on a strategy of educating and interpreting this
  • Leave restoration to the restoration societies.
  • Open up so that people can see, clearly, what the Waterways Trust 'is'
  • Make membership something worth having and doing.
  • If necessary, provide some boats, equipment and artefacts to museums around the country so that members living a long way from one of the museums can join in or contribute more locally.
  • Develop sponsorship packages to encourage and realise corporate financial contributions
  • Stop putting out corporate rubbish press releases - it makes you look even more ridiculous
  • Redevelop interpretation and displays to improve accessibility to all (too much at Stoke Bruerne is aimed, for example, at an 11 year old)
  • Develop commercial plans to exploit the collection (as government money is going to be even more limited in years to come)
  • Actively encourage volunteers to contribute, not just as cash donors but as involved, active participants
Simples, as that irritating little Russian meerkat says.

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