Thursday, 24 September 2009

Doing it the Chesterfield way

I am really not surprised at the dramatic progress on restoring the Chesterfield Canal, and I hope to get at least as far as West Stockwith with North Star during the next few years. Once I get past being a tidal coward, that is: I'm happy in a dinghy or a yacht in the tides, waves and salty stuff, but then I can turn a dinghy on a 5p piece and get myself out of trouble in the face of adversity. With North Star I can get myself into trouble in 3' of still waters, let alone 5 knots of ebb tide in the Trent.

I am not a great supporter of new restoration projects, to be honest, especially given the absolute inevitability of staggering government funding cuts in the years to come. We need to protect what we have already. But I have an increasing admiration for both the Chesterfield and the nearby Grantham Canal, because they have such a balanced approach that - I believe - is missing from many of the far bigger, far older canal societies. I would absolutely bet that neither the Chesterfield Canal Trust nor The Grantham Canal Society aren't moaning about a lack of new members or younger members or a lack of volunteers!

The Grantham and the Chesterfield, both (or will) suffer from only being accessible from a major river - the Trent. In the case of the Chesterfield, a lengthy journey is necessary along a tidal stretch which is intimidating to many boaters. Both canals will also simply form there-and-back excursions, again less popular and less likely to attract the lucrative hire fleets - although Canal Time is well located for both these canals.

It is probably because of - rather than despte - these locational adversities that both societies are particularly dynamic. At a number of events and rallys in the last few years, I have seen their evangelistic volunteers out there educating, teaching, informing, chatting and proactively presenting their case. Funnily enough, at the National I was also impressed with a similar style of campaigning from the Derby Canal Society; is there something in the water in this part of the world, for goodness' sake?

The I look at the woeful state of national level campaigning, the dismal state of the major waterways museums, the witless marketing of BW (how many 'bathtubs in a lock' boards do we need to pay for, eh?) and the bitter infighting of some of the more established societies.

I am so pleased to see not only the arrival of nb Python at West Stockwith for the use by the Chesterfield Canal Trust, but also the use of a variety of press to publicise it: that is good PR, and the smiling, cheerful Chesterfield restorers are a bit of a beacon of hope in what are rather gloomy days.

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