I am starting to realise that the apparently kind and flattering invitation a year ago to talk at the NABO AGM about our experiences in setting up the first trial K&A/CRT Waterways Partnership was really a recruitment exercise! NABO has just taken over my life!
My starting point is my belief that CRT simply has to succeed: There isno ‘Plan B’. And, as has always been the case with the restoration of the canals, whether or not it does succeed actually lies in our hands. It’s not all down to some remote body, embedded in a government department. We, all those thousands of people devoted to the waterways, must ‘own’ CRT and help make it work.
During the run-up to the establishment of CRT much of my work for the K&A Canal Trust (aided and abetted by our outspoken President, David Bruce, of Bruce Trust fame), was concerned with lobbying for a better financial deal for CRT. In addition, however, we were also totally supportive of Tony Hales when he said that the transformation of BW into CRT would require a total cultural shift in BW – and that has to start at the top. Having met him and seen him at work, I also believe that the arrival of Richard Parry is the key to enabling this to happen.
To me, BW was always an enigma. As a boater on the Mon & Brec, I am continually amazed at the efforts and expertise involved in keeping the canals open, and I have also always been happy with the relationship between us boaters and the BW staff. When I moved into managing the K&A Canal Trust I was similarly impressed by much of what I saw happening in the day-to-day management of the waterway. But I soon saw another side of BW – an almost endemic inability to listen to those who actually understood the problems. Of course, this is complicated, inevitably, by many very differing views, but I continually saw great strides being made locally, and then hopes being dashed through edicts issued from Watford. The often vicious debates about the alleged abuse of the continuous cruising conditions and the overcrowding and serious shortages of visitor moorings in Bath and at the amazing Claverton Pumping station are but two examples.
When BW became CRT, I also realised that additional funding for maintenance and water provision would be required, but it struck me as bizarre that the first focus of CRT’s ‘friends’ recruitment campaigns was targeted at non-canal folk. The waterways have always been largely restored, cared for and used by those who are most passionate about them – so surely CRT needs to get closer to those people and the 200-plus canal trusts and societies that they all work for? Silly me! I believed that the future of the established canal trusts lay in developing a very close relationship with CRT – indeed, as some of us dared to suggest, shouldn’t we actually merge with them?
As a long-term, non-active member of NABO I was delighted when David Fletcher took over the chair. I had always admired NABO and felt it was one of the very few bodies which really understood (and was professionally qualified to speak about) the issues relating to the management of the waterways. David, through his own personal professionalism, knowledge, enthusiasm and integrity, led NABO to new heights where its voice is now both heard and respected. Since joining Council I have realised how well informed NABO is and how much access it has to those who are pulling the strings.
However, I also have long felt that NABO has not actively promoted itself and I am constantly reminded of this when I hear of individuals struggling to get their problems solved or concerns addressed without knowing who to turn to. David’s work on our website has done much to address this, but we must ensure that we continually get the message out about all we are doing, even if some things still have to be done through quiet negotiations. Our high-profile responses to the recent issues of visitor moorings in the South East and on the K&A illustrate how we must operate. And in a world of blogs, chat-rooms, on-line forums, Facebook, Twitter, etc., we need to be highly visible. Here I am delighted that Mark Tizard, who is now also leading all NABO’s work on moorings, has taken us firmly into the forum world, John Slee is handling our Twitter activities, and Richard Carpenter our Facebook page.
Finally, having been pleased to put both my boating and engineering background to work by becoming the NABO representative on the BSS Technical Committee, I have been involved in revising the BSS requirements for hire and day boats. What struck me is that the BSS programme is driven by an ongoing risk assessment from the experience of day-to-day boating. However, while CRT, EA, the hire companies and the statutory bodies capture a lot of information about serious accidents, the experience of most private boaters isn’t included. How many times have you fallen off your boat, slipped on a wet landing stage, or cut your hand on badly fitting lock gear? Or, like me, nearly killed some canoeist in a tunnel where they shouldn’t be allowed because you can’t see them from the helm? Working with BSS we will be investigating simple ways of feeding back this sort of information via NABO so that the database used to inform the BSS committees can be more comprehensive.
My worries? NABO’s membership is holding up well despite the recent increase in membership fees (which, let’s face it, are still not exorbitant!). But there are still far too many boaters out there who aren’t aware of what we do and we need to bring them into the family. That’s best done by personal contact with existing and committed members. Who could you tell about NABO? We also still need more activists to run the Council and to act as our regional representatives (our vital local eyes and ears) - there is so much more we could do if we had more help!
So – there is much to be done but I’m convinced that exciting times lie ahead and there’s a great deal we can achieve together in cherishing the waterways so that ‘going boating’ can remain the deep-seated pleasure it has long been!