On 19th March I went to an event in Leeds called ‘Building the Social Economy Through the Waterways.’ It was a chance for projects and initiatives that have connected communities and businesses to share their experiences. People attended from all over the UK, many from community boating projects.
Trevor Roberts, Development Director of Canal Connections and chairman of the NCBA opened the conference by noting that the waterways are an underappreciated resource. He believes there is a role for the social economy rather than just physical regeneration of the canals. The waterways can support social cohesion, the environment and economic growth. Room 60 made a cool animated film Waterways for Growth.
The keynote speaker was John Battle, former MP for West Leeds. His anecdotes included the time he walked to work in Parliament – from Leeds to London along the canals! Also, his random meeting with a Professor of Philosophy in a hotel bar in Japan who said,
“The most important thing in life is rediscovering your own home address.”
John agreed, “How we build things locally in our own neighbourhoods is important.” The Leeds canal needs to be protected as a green space. He had plenty of suggestions of different ways to make use of the canals with a better focus on the integration of the whole economy. But we need a “linked up strategy, not piece-meal projects.”
More than boats.
Richard Miller’s description of The Helix Project in Scotland was inspiring. He showed the deterioration and then regeneration of some of the Scottish canals. The Helix Project is about transforming the urban fringe with a plan for parkland and a new canal. The paths are in the shape of a double helix – the design for life.
Karen Moore from the Scottish Waterways Trust spoke about the Green Action Project; involving Young people Not Engaged in Education/training (NEET). She demonstrated that getting NEETs into employment resulted in significant savings to the economy.
In four themed active planning sessions delegates had opportunities to discuss how we can connect the canal and communities to enterprise, both locally and nationally.
“Community boats contribute over £6 million to the economy.”
Trevor Roberts then concluded the morning by asserting that community boats contribute over £6 million to the economy each year. Service users often suffer from isolation and lack of confidence. Self-harm is a big cause of death in males under 35. One in five children in split families have no contact with their father.
Community boating projects are making a difference to a variety of people on a local level, but they exist all over the UK. Find your nearest community boating project or get inspired by the film Waterways for Growth.