Volunteers from the Shropshire Union Canal Society (SUCS) have been looking back over 2023 with pride and Dave Carter, Chairman (Shropshire Union Canal Society) said “Last year will go down in the society’s history as a great year, we had funding from many sponsors, especially the National Heritage Lottery Fund, but without our team of volunteers who turned out in all weathers and worked so hard, none of this would have been possible. The challenge now is to keep this rate of progress going in 2024 but I think, as Tom Fulda takes over as project manager, this is assured”.

The work of SUCS volunteers had not gone un-noticed and in June the society was awarded the Tetlow Cup, an IWA regional trophy for outstanding services to the waterways.

David continued, “Without doubt the crowning achievement was the opening of the canal from Pryces Bridge to Crickheath Bridge within the time limits set by The National Heritage Lottery Fund, within budget, and all despite the Covid Lockdowns. As a further length of the Montgomery Canal was now open for navigation, SUCS with Canal & River Trust held a splendid opening ceremony and for the volunteers had a barbeque sponsored by Monty’s Brewery with a barrel of their Navigation Pale Ale on hand to be quaffed, what a day!”.

Attentions then focussed on the Crickheath Wharf to Schoolhouse Bridge section with work on the now crumbling wharf wall, a wash-wall, and an unsafe towpath to be tackled. The project began with a design brief from C&RT engineers coinciding with the fundraising team being granted £14,400 from the Association of Industrial Archaeology for new coping stones for the wall and £1,300 from Oswestry Rural Council for the towpath. Work dismantling the wharf, including removing some enormous trees, was completed by SUCS volunteers. The project got a great boost as experts from the Cheshire branch of the Dry-Stone Walling Association stepped up to use their expertise in the restoration of the wharf wall.

With well attended work parties, SUCS volunteers completed work on the wash-wall by Crickheath Bridge and on the towpath improvements. All this activity went on as the plant operators began the profiling of the canal bed.

The powers that be in Shropshire clearly recognised the work the society is doing as the Lord Lieutenant of Shropshire made a surprise visit to a work party and stayed for much of the day, seeing the volunteers in action.

Fundraising remained a vital activity as the push to complete the canal to Schoolhouse Bridge continues and in June 2023, an appeal was launched to raise £250,000 towards the first section of the restoration and by the turn of the year some £125,000 had already been donated.

Work behind the scenes to raise funds and public awareness was supported by a wider communications team with individuals focussing on social media as well as tradition press outlets whilst the exhibition team was joined by new members. A new website was launched and ”hits” on social media have steadily increased. The successful launch of Navigation Pale Ale in casks producing over £1,000 in donations and led to a decision to sell the beer in bottles in time for the Christmas ’23 market.

The society did not just focus on restoration in 2023 it restarted a volunteer team on enhancement with the purpose of helping maintain the main network for the benefit of all canal users and the first stretch, agreed with C&RT, was on the Llangollen Canal between the C&RT workshops at Ellesmere and bridge 55 taking in the picturesque area as the canal passes Blakemere.

Sadly, the year ended with the death of Rich Hamp, an inspirational chairman of SUCS for many years, who finally lost his brave battle with cancer – he will be much missed.

Picture credit: Shropshire Union Canal Society.