Grantham Journal Big Interview: Race against time to restore canal locks

Working hard: Volunteers from the Grantham canal restoration society.
Working hard: Volunteers from the Grantham canal restoration society.

Teams of local volunteers have been working around the clock to restore a set of locks and bring Grantham Canal back to life. Members from the Grantham Canal Society (GCS) have been working in partnership with the Canal and River Trust to restore locks 14 and 15 near Woolsthorpe, as part of a five-year project dubbed the ‘Woolsthorpe Flight,’ largely funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Events co-ordinator and assistant head ranger Tony Jackson has been a member of GCS for seven years. He spoke to the Journal along with operations manager Ian Wakefield and community and events team leader Rosemary Gibson about what is next for the society.

Group effort: members of the Grantham canal and restoration society have been helping restore the locks since 2015.

Group effort: members of the Grantham canal and restoration society have been helping restore the locks since 2015.

How did GCS begin?

After being used for industrial purposes for many years, the Grantham Canal closed in 1936 and was left almost derelict. Fast forward 30 years and government legislation meant that it was about to be filled in and turned into a rubbish tip. It wasn’t until a meeting was arranged between them and the civil trust in 1969, that they campaigned for it to remain open, and then Grantham Canal Society was created. We are a group of volunteers who want to see the canal restored from Grantham to the River Trent in Nottingham.

Why did you get involved?

Although there are a good range of ages, the majority of volunteers have retired. With more time on our hands, we wanted to put it to good use. A lot of us have fond memories of the canal from when we were growing up. Rosemary remembers her grandfather farming alongside it when she was a child. It’s an amazing feeling to be able to restore these 200-year-old locks on our own doorstep.

Early rebuilding of lock 15

Early rebuilding of lock 15

Why is it important to restore the canal?

The canal forms an important part of our local industrial and historical heritage. It provided the transport system for the industrial revolution and it’s now very popular with walkers, cyclists, anglers, runners, canoeists and naturalists. However, the canal is not a natural waterway. It was made by men for commercial purposes, and without care and attention, it will become overgrown and unusable. Species of plants, insects and fish, will disappear, as will the enjoyment we all get from its 33 miles, not to mention the economic benefits it will bring to Grantham and the surrounding areas.

It must cost a lot to maintain. How do you bring in revenue?

The overall responsibility lies with the Canal and River Trust who carry out the essential maintenance. GCS help restore it between Woolsthorpe and the A1. The restoration of the locks is being largely funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund which was awarded to us in 2015, however we still need to bring in more income. We try and spread the word as much as we can by organising events, our main one being our annual discovery day in October. Our team also takes an information stand to a wide variety of events. They give illustrated talks to WIs, special interest and social groups. We like to visit local schools to arrange educational activities either in school or on site and we also arrange trips on our narrowboat, The Three Shires.

The boat caters for groups of up to 10 people and runs crusies ranging from two to four hours. It runs from April to October on Sundays and some bank holidays. It’s very popular with families wanting a unique way to celebrate a birthday, anniversary or party. We even had a couple get engaged on it alittle while ago. It’s a great income stream for the society, but theres always space for more bookings.

The whole restoration of the canal relies solely with the GCS, making it even more important to keep raising the much-needed funds to keep it going.

Who is welcome to volunteer?

Anyone over the age of 16. The society attracts a wide range of people, from young volunteers wanting to widen their knowledge to waterway enthusiasts who wish to make a contribution to restoring the system, to people who just want to get outdoors, have fun and learn new skills. The bulk of the work is done by Grantham Canal Society but we also have volunteers from the Waterway Recovery Group who join us for four weeks in the summer and a week in the spring and autumn. We also attract a lot of corporate groups who join us to boost their team building skills. It’s always great to have someone who already has a specialist skill that we can use, for example being able to work on machinery, but specialist training is given, where neccessary.

How can everyone else help?

We need as many as 36,000 new bricks to restore locks 12-15. We need to replenish our funds already used and purchase more bricks before we can continue building the locks. Therefore we’re asking people to buy an engraved brick for a donation, which will be visually displayed for the users of the canal and towpath for years to come.

For more information on the restoration project and how you can buy your brick, visit www.granthamcanal.org