Photo-opportunities and making the most of maintenance

February 2017 - Peter Underwood looks at the most recent public relations campaigns by the Canal & River Trust's spin doctors and attempts to remove the spin.

Providing Government ministers with photo-opportunities and using the occasion to lobby them to ensure both that funding continues to flow and any future legislation is framed the way you want it, is key to the future of any charity and the Canal & River Trust in particular.

With the end of public funding in sight and the prospect that a government claiming poverty will attempt to offload the Environment Agency's navigations without a proper financial settlement C&RT needs to be on the right side of Tory politicians.

Predictable then, that a visit by Environment Minister Thérèse Coffey to Birmingham should warrant fanfares from the Trust's PR people.

She will have a key role in deciding when and whether the Environment Agency's navigations are passed to C&RT and on the funding for that and when the current arrangement expires.

The emphasis was on volunteers, working with local communities and contributions to the local economy.

As the press release explained: “The Minister heard about how the Trust is working increasingly closely with local communities, helping them to look after and improve their local waterways - with some groups even adopting their nearest stretch of canal or river.

“Representatives of the Trust explained some of the local initiatives that are taking place in the city to engage with young people and those from a variety of different ethnic backgrounds.”

Dr Coffey also met volunteers from the Trust’s Explorers education team, who go into schools and took a tour of the historic Roundhouse next to the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal, where C&RT is working with the National Trust on plans that would see the grade II listed former stables and workshops reborn as 'a walking, cycling and canoeing hub'.

The minister also heard about the Trust’s role in a planned waterside regeneration scheme at Icknield Port Loop.

There was a mutual exchange of back-slapping with Thérèse Coffey saying: “The Trust’s work with the local community is educating young people about our nation’s heritage and I would like to thank them and all the volunteers for their hard work to protect Birmingham’s canals for future generations.”

Richard Parry, chief executive of the Trust, drove the messages that he hopes will help bring future funding into the charity's coffers, saying: “We were very pleased to welcome Dr Coffey and showcase the many ways that people are making a difference on their local waterways.

“In Birmingham, and across the country, our volunteers play an invaluable role at every level of our work from going into schools and helping visitors to practical works and making sure that the canal is a welcoming, appealing place. They’re real local heroes and it was fantastic that Dr Coffey was able to meet just a few of them.”

Elsewhere the annual PR campaign to drive home messages about C&RT's investment in the waterways by flagging up every winter lock closure, portraying it as a major investment, continues.

The Trust spends most of the winter bragging about repair work and the latest press release draws attention to a stoppage to repair and replace a number of lock gates along the Leicester Line section of the Grand Union Canal.

The Trust is repairing three sets of gates and replacing another set on the canal near the village of Kilby.

Despite the good news Charlotte Wood, from the Trust, couldn't resist a dig at boaters when she said: "The locks on the Leicester Line are used many times every day and they do get a bit of a pounding from passing boats."

At the other end of the country the dredging necessary on a regular basis to keep the Ribble Link operational is the subject of another promotional effort with C&RT's team telling the world that 'over 15,000 tonnes of silt is set to be dredged from the Ribble Link and parts of the Lancaster Canal near Preston'.

We are told: “£750,000 is being spent to improve the canal for the benefit of all users making it easier for boaters to navigate along the popular routes and improving the habitat for fishermen and wildlife.

“Using floating dredgers, silt and debris which has built up throughout the canal corridor over many years, will be removed. Once dredged, most of the silt will be recycled to benefit agricultural land alongside the canal."

It seems all is well in C&RT land – at least according to their spin doctors.

Photos: (Top) Thérèse Coffey MP meets volunteers on board historic working boat Scorpio, (2nd) Thérèse Coffey MP meets representatives of the Canal & River Trust and the Community Connect Foundation, (3rd) Replacing lock gates on the Grand Union Leicester Line, (4th) Dredging on the Lancaster Canal.

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