In the Chair July 2018

Can you hear us?

Stella Ridgway is looking forward to meaningful discussions with CRT, rather than just being fed information.

CRT was in its infancy when we moved onto our boat. You may remember Richard Parry held road-shows and regular meetings with boating organisations, and seemed to genuinely want to listen to boater’s views. Admittedly, he was taking over an organisation that had deliberately not spent its budget, and had a policy of closing canals rather than maintaining them. The challenge was to bring boaters along with the new organisation.

I stood for CRT Council two years ago because I wanted to make a difference. At every meeting since, we, the boaters’ reps, have said to the Trust: “you have a free resource in boaters with all this knowledge; why not use us?” We have had limited success and never an acknowledgement ‒ the re-branding was a case in point. When it was announced at the Council meeting in April (we didn’t get to see the new branding), I said that boaters felt disenfranchised, and the launch then failed to mention them as one of the Trust’s biggest income streams. So there is now a hasty press release, trying to atone for the fact that boaters weren’t mentioned.

Boaters’ reps to Council have quarterly meetings and NABO had its first meeting with the new Head of Customer Services in June ‒ but will they actually listen to us? Like the Council and the User Forums, they appear to pay lip-service to the feedback they receive, judging by a recent example on the Marple Flight. They were told about a problem in Lock 11 last November (after the stoppage had started); it was checked by an engineer, but we still have to find out why it didn’t get added to the programme of works. It seems that we are in the project management world of budgets and work programmes that cannot be altered, which means that we, as customers, suffer. It is the lack of listening and the lack of communication that concern boaters. Those of us who live on the canals do so because we love the waterways and the way of life. We have experience that we will share, if only the Trust would listen. There is a failure to properly and genuinely engage with us in meaningful discussions, rather than just feeding us information. The Trust should be seeking our views prior to decisions being made, but this is lacking. Is it therefore any wonder that boaters feel disenfranchised and neglected? We know that CRT is trying to ensure the future of the canals as a resource for all. I think most boaters get that ‒ but ignoring us doesn’t fill us with confidence. However, as Richard Parry says, ‘boaters are front and centre of all decisions’, so ‒ you never know ‒ they might start to take our views seriously. But we also have a responsibility: if we see that something is broken or services need attention, report it. We are ears and eyes on the cut and the Trust recognises that. They need our help, but they just don’t like telling us, it seems.

Have a good summer boating and hopefully some sunshine.