Chairman’s Report to the AGM 2020

Mike Rodd reflects on his last twelve months in the Chair.

Having resumed as Chair once again when Stella had to stand down, I am delighted that she has made such excellent progress health-wise. She has, however, had to move back on land and give up her boat, so I guess I am ‘it’ for a while. But my task is made so much easier by having such active and fully engaged colleagues, both on the Council and also as our Regional Representatives. And what a year this has proved to be – not just through the Covid lockdowns, but with both CRT and the EA clearly getting themselves geared up for a future in which they will have to bid for Government funding, by making extensive internal changes and very significant operational modifications.

Chair, Mike Rodd is enjoying cruising again, despite the lack of maintenance and e-scooters.

Boating at last! For many of us, it was a great joy to be able to get back boating again and for me also to resume being a Boatmaster for the K&A Canal Trust’s trip-boat, the ‘Rose of Hungerford’. Given that the income generated by the trip boats (with all the boats being operated totally by volunteers) is its major source of funding, the impact on the Trust of the long period of non-operation has been horrendous. This has been especially critical as we get to the end of the (partially) HLF-funded restoration work at the Crofton Pumping Station, as the boat trips are contributing the bulk of the required matching funding. Making the trip-boats ‘socially distanced’ has meant a serious drop in the maximum number of passengers we can carry (about half), but with significant demand for places, at least a reasonable income is now being generated.

Chair, Mike Rodd is concerned by what he sees in his crystal ball.

In these strange times that we’re living in, our thoughts and prayers are with those tragically affected by Covid-19 and we feel for those who have lost a family member, friend or colleague, or whose livelihood or mental health has been seriously affected.

Nevertheless, even on a smaller scale, I am sure that you are all, like me, totally frustrated by the unfortunate delays in being able to get back on our boats – made worse for those of us who boat in Wales, where the Assembly seems to be continually slightly out of phase with the situation in England. I am looking forward to be able to go and check that our boat is still floating!

Mike Rodd considers some effects of the pandemic.

Like many of our members in self-isolation at home and unable to travel to our boats, it has really come home to us how much the canals and rivers are an essential part of our lives. It also reminds us how precious these waterways are, and how urgently we need to ensure that they are protected. 

This will be especially important in the days ahead, when our economy will look very different from the immediate past, with governments facing many horrendous difficulties in recovering from the financial wrecking balls caused by the pandemic. And – of vital interest to all of us – at the same time as the Government will be trying to sort out this mess, CRT and EA will be bidding for at least some essential government funding.  As I have said before, I just cannot see how either body will be able to continue without some level of government support, at least similar to that which has been received in the past. However, I really can’t see such bids being high on any government's priorities. It is vital, therefore, that boater representative bodies, such as NABO and RBOA, get behind CRT’s and EA’s bids – even though we must also continue to be critical friends when needed.

Mike Rodd compares the attitudes of two navigation authorities.

Although being on a boat is a good place to self-isolate, if you are not a liveaboard, going to your boat is no longer an option. If you are already on board, CRT and the EA are asking boaters to stop all travel on the waterways, with the exception of accessing facilities. The suspension will be kept under review, applying initially until 14th April. During this period they are suspending the requirement to move every 14 days. These are challenging and changing times for all of us and we must all do what is best to ensure the virus is contained, and that you and I do not overload the NHS – which is doing an amazing job. Incidentally, CRT’s advice is at

https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/enjoy-the-waterways/safety-on-our-waterways/coronavirus.

It has been a busy time for meetings with the senior EA management and it is very important to acknowledge that, as they look to make their navigational responsibilities less dependent on the public purse and explore becoming more commercially viable, they are making every possible effort to consult all the boating and water-related organisations that are involved. While the outcomes are not yet clear, my own view is that the new senior folk, who have experience of making other organisations move towards becoming less government-dependent, are being very realistic in analysing potential funding sources. And they accept the responsibilities they have, to maintain their historically-precious infrastructures. I also have a strong feeling that they are determined to make themselves ready to become part of CRT!