Over seventy people attended the Montgomery Canal Forum in Oswestry’s Memorial Hall on 21st May to hear report of developments in the restoration of the canal and plans for the future.
The meeting was opened by Cllr Steve Charmley, Deputy Leader of Shropshire Council who spoke of the value of the canal in economic and social terms, its health and well-being benefits, and his pleasure at the progress being made.
A presentation of the recent Inland Waterways Association report Waterways in Progress, by a video introduced by Association Vice-President David Suchet (‘Poirot’), was followed by a report by Montgomery Waterway Restoration Trust Chairman Michael Limbrey of the benefits brought by restoration of the Montgomery Canal so far.
Two more presentations showed what had been achieved under the current Lottery-supported programme to make the derelict section to Crickheath navigable again, including the creation of extensive new canalside nature reserves at Aston Locks and the work of the volunteers who have been working to reinstate this section.
These were followed by a presentation of the plans for rebuilding Schoolhouse Bridge near Crickheath, the last road blockage in Shropshire. Roger Bravey, who leads the rebuild team, showed how the project had developed so as to reconcile the need for a great input from volunteers, to keep the cost down, with the wish to do the work in the shortest time and to minimise the impact on those who use the road.
The last presentation was a tribute to waterway journalist and photographer Harry Arnold, a founder member of the Montgomery Waterway Restoration Trust, who had recorded the revival of the canal for more than fifty years.
Michael Limbrey said, “Waterways in Progress is a recent report which shows from other restorations across the country that restoring a canal can bring benefits to a community even before the restoration is finished. We have so many examples on the Montgomery Canal including two popular pubs on the Shropshire section, thriving canoe groups at Queen's Head and Welshpool and no less than three different boat trips – in Maesbury, Llanymynech and Welshpool. In addition, the canal is host to popular events like the recent Montgomery Canal Triathlon and Welshpool’s Transport Festival in June.
“The current National Lottery Heritage Fund programme, managed through the canal’s owners, the Canal & River Trust, is providing new nature reserves and another length of canal which in a couple of years’ time will mean an extra 1.3 miles added to the national waterway system. It was very valuable to see how much is being achieved by volunteers of the regular Shropshire Union Canal Society regular work party team as part of this programme.
“We hope to be rebuilding Schoolhouse Bridge next year. This will be one of the most significant volunteer projects on the Montgomery Canal for some time. Volunteers have been raising funds for the bridge through the Restore the Montgomery Canal! appeal over the last two years or so and I’m delighted that over £500 was raised through generous donations at the meeting.
“All this brings nearer the time when boats from across the country can return to mid-Wales.”