Pandemic has shown the value of canal restoration

Published: Monday, 18 January 2021

Pandemic has shown the value of canal restoration, says Wey & Arun Canal Trust chairman.

As we enter another lockdown, you would be forgiven for thinking the chairman of the Wey & Arun Canal Trust would be feeling rather downbeat about the coming year. Fundraising events have had to be called off, boat trips cancelled and working parties stood down.

SallySchupkeFull optimism

However, Sally Schupke, who has chaired the charity restoring the 23 miles canal spanning Surrey and West Sussex for more than 10 years, is full of optimism.

She says although the pandemic has been tough on the Trust’s finances, members and supporters, it has brought into sharp focus the importance of its aim of creating a green corridor to be used for leisure:

“During the pandemic so many people have appreciated the green spaces on their doorstep. In uncertain times a walk along the canal towpaths and the nature park at Shalford in Surrey have brought us calm. Seeing the beauty of nature and being out in the open air have been a lifeline for many.  I can’t see that changing as we come out of this dark period.”

Above average

She adds that the numbers of people visiting the longest restored section at Loxwood were well above average throughout the year, along with other picturesque areas such as Lordings Lock near Wisborough Green and Hunt Nature Park in Shalford.

"We have seen everyone from families with young children to older people thankful for the easy and flat walking, kayakers, paddleboarders, cyclists and horseriders, all enjoying the special feeling that being by the canal provides and importantly getting some respite from being at home and having some necessary exercise.”

The Trust’s ambition is to bring back to life the canal that once provided a waterway route from London to the South Coast, and Sally says the goal is one that the Trust remains focused on in 2021, opening up more sections where it can.  It hopes to open a circular canal walk in Birtley, near Bramley, some time this year, providing another scenic area to explore.

Bridge being builtVolunteers

It hasn’t only been the public who have experienced the benefits of canal restoration, though, but those 150-plus volunteers who give up their spare time to join working parties which in normal times run almost every day of the week, Sally admitting:

“Having to shut down working parties has been a blow.  For volunteers it’s not just about the maintenance and restoration work itself—although that is important to thembut the social side of working together in a team, the camaraderie. Volunteering can be so good for your mental wellbeing, as well as physical health.

“Due to social distancing we had to limit numbers working over the summer when working parties were allowed to once again operate, and we were even turning people away who had offered to volunteer. We hope that when we get back to normal we will be able to welcome even more volunteers to our working parties.”

scaffolding at compassesContinue to support

Sally also hopes that the public will continue to support the Trust through donations and membership to help it bounce back from the fall in revenue in 2020:

We plan to hold fundraising events when we can and operate our boat cruises from Loxwood as soon as restrictions are lifted in the spring. Tickets for our trips run with reduced capacity throughout the summer, autumn and over Christmas were in big demand and we can’t wait to welcome passengers back when we can.

“The pandemic has showed that the restored canal brings a lot of people pleasure, both on and off the water, and we want to make sure that continues.”