If only the trust would listen

Stella Ridgeway responds to the letter to boaters from Richard Parry

Why is it boaters feel so disenfranchised by CRT? Why is it that CRT staff, who are paid to enrol people on the towpath as Friends, now don’t bother to approach boaters? The constant PR push over the last couple of years celebrates initiatives that rarely involve boats. Instead, walkers, cyclists, anglers and canoeists are targeted and welcomed in increasing numbers - come in, it’s a free resource. The latest rebranding only cost £60k, honestly! New expensive signs have sprung up, seemingly overnight, alongside the canals and are directed at those who already know where the canal is – not the 7 million who supposedly don’t.  Millions spent on new cycle routes, walkways, canoe routes ‒ yes it’s grant funded, but where are the grants to repair the listed locks and bridges?

Strip away the PR and we see a different reality: licence fees increasing for the majority by a minimum of 5%, despite promises of a revenue-neutral review.  Marple flight closed for eight months, then closed again a week after reopening because of a failure to act on a reported and acknowledged fault. Minworth closed shortly after reopening due to the failure to ensure it was deep enough to be navigable after the repairs were completed. I could go on. This is our experience, our reality.

So my message to Richard Parry is simple: stop and think every time your media department gets a new idea.  Ask yourself: “What would boaters think of this?” We care about the canals being navigable, locks usable, moorings deep enough, services available, heritage protected not sold. Is anyone listening to us? Your new target audience also want these things. Look at the faces that light up and the waves exchanged as boats go past. Boats are the reason they flock to places like Foxton or Stoke Bruerne.

To us, the canals’ biggest fans, the canals are not free as Allan Leighton would have us believe. We pay to use our boats and the canal is quite literally on our doorstep. We want to cherish and protect it, probably more than those who head up CRT’s newly reorganised structure. Recent press releases and media articles ignore, or just take for granted, those who pay a considerable chunk of income to the Trust, not just through licensing, while reaching out to those who enjoy all the facilities canals have to offer without paying. Councils already understand the health aspects of canals; indeed, the three county councils who for years have contributed to the cost of maintaining the K&A do so because they recognise the value that the canals have on the health of both the environment and their constituents. Ask them what they think of their money being spent on rebranding and I think you can guess the answer.

We love the canals, and those of us who live on them full- or part-time do so because we love the waterways and the way of life. We have experience that we would willingly share, if only the Trust would listen. Because of this failure to genuinely engage in meaningful discussions and seek, AND take account of, our views prior to decisions being made, is it any wonder that boaters feel disenfranchised and neglected?

CRT needs to get boaters back onboard and make us believe that it can improve the experience of ALL who use the canals. Together we stand a chance persuading Government to keep this precious resource adequately funded; separately we don’t.