Project Update – Nov 2020

Off we go! October’s news (news article) that we had secured £8.9 million from the National Lottery Heritage Fund was fantastic news for the community and means that Stonehouse and Stroud will become canal towns once again.

Inevitably, the project will take some time to gather momentum – we have to finalise our contract with the Lottery first, then start recruiting extra team members and physically acquiring land.

But things are already happening! Starting monthly, we will post a brief update on what’s happening in each of our teams and what you can expect to see….

Activities

  • Since the news of bid success was announced many people have been in touch, excited to hear the news and keen to know more. Project partners, Creative Sustainability (CS) will be managing the delivery of the project’s education, economic regeneration, creative arts and community engagement work. In order to prepare the ground, they have been actively making contact with local organisations and community groups, who will be involved going forward, to share the good news and discuss opportunities for participation. 
  • As part of this initial engagement work, CS, in partnership with Cotswold Boatmobility, organised a fun day out on the canal for a group of young people living in Gloucester, who are supported by Gloucestershire Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers (GARAS). Youth leader, Harry told us,’We have such a great time with the GARAS group – they get so few chances to enjoy a day out in nature and absolutely loved getting out on the water – thanks to Boatmobility for their amazing accessible boating and truly inclusive attitudes.’
  • Creative Sustainability CEO, Anna Bonallack, is thrilled that the National Lottery Heritage Fund is supporting the project. “We have worked so hard over the past three years to make this project happen for our community and we are really excited about maximising all the opportunities it brings for our people and communities, and especially for those most under-represented in society.”
  • Local response to Cotswold Canals Connected has been overwhelmingly positive and CS can’t wait to build on the work and the partnerships established over the past two years. They are now preparing detailed workplans for the next three years to make sure that we embed and deliver local benefits together. 

Archives

  • The archive website, which is under development, is being shared with interested parties such as the Museum in the Park and that has already sparked interest and ideas about how it can be improved. We are being asked to get permissions and reference numbers onto the images for schools and that is our chance to highlight the work of the Museum.
  • In the short term we will be trying to build an online community for research. A fascinating joint project between the Archive and Working with Nature teams will see a feature on what the environment was like in the 1770s, when the canal was built. There is plenty of material in the archives of the Company of Proprietors of the Stroudwater Navigation which will assist this.
  • We are working with our designer (Julie Howe) to prepare exhibition materials for other project groups to use as well as us.
  • We are preparing historical notes for each of the projects on the ground. Each one, such as Ocean Railway Bridge and Newtown Lock, will feature temporary interpretation boards, including the history of the site or structure. We are getting the words right and will help volunteers at the project sites to understand the history and hopefully give them confidence to talk to passers by.
  • Hopefully, ‘Walk leaflets’ will emerge from the various projects because we can update leaflets that have gone before
  • We are planning our involvement with schools, which is timely as they are trying to deliver local history projects. We are working with the Museum in the Park to get collection boxes together which include artefacts.

Cotswold Canals Trust (CCT)

  • Opportunities are being progressed with landowners with a view to entering arrangements to deposit Phase 1B dredgings (there will be a lot!) onto their land as direct soil improvers or to dry and potentially process into a useful topsoil nutrient addition. One field area in particular looks promising and further discussions with the owner are ongoing.
  • CCT Western Maintenance Depot is currently being expanded and refurbished by volunteers to facilitate the additional volunteer numbers and workload required to deliver various Phase 1B canal restoration sub-projects. This has been funded by a generous legacy from a former volunteer.
  • We have met again with our major third party sponsor to progress the methodology of excavating the Missing Mile and construction of the 2 new locks in this canal section, all of which he has offered to fund.

Engineering

  • In order to prepare for the main start of work, and also to meet critical external deadlines, planning of the engineering works has continued apace. This work has included reviewing and refining job roles and the interactions that engineering has with the rest of the project.
  • Discussions with key project partners and sponsors have assisted in the further refinement of the engineering timetable which in turn has highlighted the priority actions that now need to be taken to ensure that we keep to the timeline and budgets.
  • Work on the Ocean Rail Bridge is well underway, as we have to be ready for the planned 3-day mainline rail closure next May. The site compound establishment is proceeding – you may have noticed this next to the A419 near Stonehouse Court Hotel.
  • Ecological tool box talks have started with engineering staff and volunteers to ensure understanding of and compliance with the project’s ecological commitments.
  • In the coming weeks, the engineering team will increase in size as the volunteers within it become much more active.

Volunteering

  • In the run up to the successful Bid announcement, most volunteer work has concentrated on vegetation management, primarily on the existing Phase 1A, but also on parts of 1B. Planning work for 1B / CCC continued right up to and beyond the Bid announcement, looking at how we can increase the future size of the volunteer workforce, together with ways of recruitment. We need to have individual projects up and running before we can use such an increased workforce, and with COVID-19 we also have the conflicting requirement to keep numbers in check for social distancing reasons. With the recently announced second lockdown, volunteering has been suspended or reduced to essential repair and maintenance tasks.
  • Enquiries keep coming in for Corporate Volunteering, so we are developing a database of companies interested in our project, together with appropriate leads.
  • We are meeting with South Gloucestershire & Stroud (SGS) College staff to discuss the involvement of construction and other students on CCC.
  • Discussing training requirements for existing and future volunteers with CCT and others.
  • Especially concerned that we need to find a way of encouraging experienced volunteers to ‘step up’ to become Team Leaders. It would be wrong to recruit too many new volunteers to immediately take on this role.
  • Trial runs of Environmental Toolbox Talks for volunteers will take place at Newtown Lock, following guidance and training from Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust and the Working with Nature Team.
  • A joint team of 6 from SDC and CCT will be undertaking a scaffolding course on 17th November

Working with Nature

  • Winter hibernation and inspection surveys commissioned for trees and structures at Walk Bridge, the M5 crossing and the Missing Mile.
  • Re-starting volunteer groups at Pockett’s Orchard Whitminster. For obvious reasons, we need to limit numbers, but we could potentially have two groups– email anna.tarbet@gloucestershirewildlifetrust.co.uk if you are interested in joining us
  • With work starting at Newtown Lock, the Project Managers have been given environmental training on potential ecological constraints in the area and precautionary working methods to avoid and minimise impacts.
  • A detailed work programme for the next 6-months being drawn up to ensure we will be ready to get going as soon as we have formal Permission to Start from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
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