Not all volunteers are equal in C&RT eyes

May 2017 - Peter Underwood looks at the attempts to stifle and ignore one of the newest and most successful restoration groups in England.

Across the country the Canal & River Trust is desperately recruiting volunteers - so the way in which it has discouraged and excluded the most enthusiastic and effective people working on the restoration of the Lancaster Canal's Northern Reaches takes some explaining.

The Lancaster Canal Trust had been plugging away steadily at restoring the available sections of the Northern Reaches, where the canal had been hacked through in several places when the M6 motorway was built in the 1960s, until two or three years ago, when a minor dispute over whether or not milestones should be painted brought all work to a complete halt.

The North West Waterways Manager for C&RT, Chantelle Seaborn, continued to refuse to allow the Trust to do any maintenance or restoration work on the sections still owned by C&RT for years.

Her attitude only changed after most of the long term active volunteers had walked away in disgust at C&RT's high-handed approach and, with the help of the IWA in the region, compliant officers were appointed to the Lancaster Canal Trust who were happy to fall in with C&RT's approach.

In the interim of inactivity Chantelle inadvertently brought about the creation of another restoration group who were determined to make a start of restoration work, no matter what C&RT wanted.

Boater and retired plumber Colin Ogden became part of a challenge to Chantelle Seaborn's arbitrary decision to convert most of the limited visitor moorings on the navigable Lancaster Canal to 48-hours, without proper consultation.

As a result he set up the Owd Lanky Boaters Group on Facebook which has become the basis of a highly successful restoration group, clearing bridges and other heritage structures on the non-C&RT sections of the Northern Reaches, winning lots of positive publicity and even working with local landowners to plan putting some sections back in water.

So successful has he been that C&RT revived the virtually moribund Canal Partnership -taking in local councils, the Lancaster Canal Trust and IWA - and persuaded them to appoint a former British Waterways PR as an expensive consultant to publicise what they were doing.

As a result the Partnership launched a PR initiative built around a long footpath/cycleway alongside the disused canal – conveniently ignoring the fact that the Lancaster Canal Trust had done the same thing several years before.

Yet Colin and the Owd Lanky Boaters go from strength to strength. He has a major local landowner as a patron, has successfully crowd-funded some restoration work and shown C&RT, the compliant Lancaster Trust and the Canal Partnership just what can be achieved with honest enthusiasm and without the micro-management of C&RT.

Another example of his support in the community, and the high levels of awareness he has created, is a raffle he is running leading up to having a stall at Country Fest at the Westmorland Showground in June. It attracts tens of thousands of people, with food and drink, countryside activities, children’s workshops, daring stunt displays and live music.

Colin has managed to get raffle prizes that include an aircraft flight the length of the canal, a weekend break in a stately home and other high quality offerings.

Not a man to hold grudges he emailed Chantelle Seaborn and offered to hand out some C&RT literature about canals on his stall at the showground.

Most people will be amazed by her response: “Thanks for thinking about us! Unfortunately as you aren’t a partner group with the Trust I can’t provide you with any branded info. We can chat about this next time we meet up, so maybe next year we would have a partner agreement in place.”

As the former Press Officer of the Lancaster Canal Trust, Frank Sanderson said: “What I can't understand, is why are C&RT advertising for volunteers, and paying people and expensive spin doctors, when they will not work with Colin Ogden, Keith Tassart, who is ex BW, and many others who have been stalwarts of the canal system.”

Latest snub is 'you can't hand out our leaflets'

It does seem that Chantelle and C&RT are only willing to work with those they have vetted and they can control but the Trust's Senior Press Officer Jon Ludford claims otherwise.

“It’s not correct to suggest that the Trust will only allow those who have been vetted, to help build public support for restoration,” he told The Floater.

“Colin has and will continue to promote the restoration of the canal and any positive publicity is obviously welcome.

“A Partner Group is a separate organisation who manage volunteers to do tasks initiated or assisted by the Trust. Our adoption groups, for example, fall into this category. Similarly, the Lancaster Canal Trust who we partner with. Incidentally, they too will be at the event you mention so will be publicising the restoration also.”

“I think Chantelle’s email to Colin makes it clear that we’d be pleased to partner with him, but in doing so, we’d want to agree what and how we move the restoration forward.”

So he can hand out C&RT's leaflets if – and only if – he doesn't do anything without the Trust's agreement. In other words the Trust wants him as restricted and tied to its apron strings as it now has the Lancaster Canal Trust.

It is difficult to see any substance in C&RT's claim it wants to work with volunteers, or that it wants to see the Northern Reaches restored when such pettiness and control-freakery seems to be the rule.

Nationally the picture doesn't seem much different with written agreements tying together the Trust and the IWA as well as the Residential Boat Owners Association at a national level and all the current 'adoptions' subject to Terms & Conditions.

At the same time C&RT's own efforts at raising public support are a marked failure with the 'Friends' scheme consistently missing targets and failing to raise any money.

Set that against the success of Owd Lanky Boaters and Colin Ogden and the comparison is stark. It will make little difference to them that C&RT is sulking and won't let them hand out a few leaflets, but the Trust could learn a lot and achieve a lot more if it could bottle the infectious success of this group and infect the rest of the organisation with the same bug.

Photos: (1st) Colin Ogden at BBC Radio Lancashire - just a small part of the publicity he has been getting for a restoration of the Northern Reaches, (2nd) Country Fest at Crooklands in the Lake District - this year Colin is running a raffle with flights along the canal and a holiday at a Stately Home as prizes, (3rd) Chantelle Seaborn - Colin's volunteers can't hand out C&RT literature because they're not 'partners'.

User login