The idea was to promote our restoration projects, and particularly the Lichfield Canal, to local people, local councillors, and local businesses, etc. A wide range of speakers and presentations was lined up and full advantage was taken of modern technology to make it as slick and impressive as possible. (Many thanks to British Waterways for allowing us the use of their equipment). We did not know whether to expect a few dozen or a few hundred people but we needn't have worried. Good advance publicity and the presence of David Suchet drew the crowds and the hall was soon at standing room only.
About 300 people packed into Lichfield Civic Hall and David Suchet said that he could “feel” the positive warmth and enthusiasm coming towards the speakers on stage! The various media reporters were busy at their notepads as information was progressively disclosed and every one seemed to have a thoroughly good evening which was informative and entertaining.
Brian Kingshott, our Chairman ably set the scene and introduced David Suchet to an enthusiastic and receptive audience. He thanked David Suchet, Vice President for raising the profile of Lichfield and Hatherton Canals Restoration. Much to the amusement of the audience Chris Coburn presented the Vice President with his trusted yellow sou’wester, as seen in the Water World series during the televised epic journey in his narrowboat “Progress” across the Channel to Brussels to promote the campaign for the Lichfield and Hatherton Canals BNRR Crossings.
Dean Davis, the local Waterway Manager for BW, gave two excellent presentations on waterway history and regeneration. Firstly he gave a general introduction to canals, then described recent restorations particularly the Huddersfield and Rochdale, as examples of schemes which are now almost complete. He outlined BW’s supportive role in the restoration of the Lichfield & Hatherton Canals
Bob Williams L & HCRT Finance Director wore one of his many other hats and became presenter. With pictorial images he showed us over the routes and challenges of our two restorations, showing the line of the Hatherton Canal and explained the Crossings at Churchbridge. He then showed the line of the Lichfield Canal with its route from Ogley Junction, skirting Lichfield to Huddlesford Junction, crossing the BNRR by means of an aqueduct. He also showed the restoration work carried out so far by volunteers on our sites and thanked the many visiting Waterway Recovery Group volunteers and our own group of enthusiastic and reliable local volunteers from the Trust. Bob emphasised the utmost urgency of the situation as CAMBBA (the builders) are about to start working at Churchbridge in May.
Judith Moore, of Waterway Recovery Group, captured the audience with her enthusiasm about the group’s activities, skills, and machinery. Referring to the butyl rubber liner she commented that WRG would rather work in rubber than with piles any day! She commented that WRG enjoyed their visits to Lichfield (Thank you WRG for all your help, past present ..and future! …also to WRG Navvies Anonymous for setting up this web site)
An interval allowed everyone time to see our display boards and membership promotion and to look at supporting displays by BW, BCNS, Lichfield District Tourism Association, The Darwin Walk and Staffordshire Wildlife Trust.
John Horton Lichfield Canal’s Project Engineer took the stage to show the engineering solutions proposed for the critical sections including the A38 crossing and the new canal in the environmental corridor near Birmingham Road. Regarding the BNRR crossing, he explained the Alternative 18 Design which was recommended by the Inspector following the Public Inquiry and the Trust’s plans for a deep lock at the BNRR aqueduct (to replace the existing locks 7 & 8 which cannot be re-used). He referred to the Cost Benefit Report and the Environmental Report which have already been carried out, and the historical research undertaken by Ray Shill of the BCN Society. An artist’s impression of the completed Tamworth Road scheme “in water” gave a very good foretaste. Inevitably much of the future work will be contractual because of the scale and complexity, nevertheless there is still much work for volunteers, including channel clearance as more sites become available, another 15 locks and miles of towpath!
Bernard Derrick, Chairman of Lichfield District Tourism Assoc. fully supported the scheme stating the benefits of tourism to Lichfield by restoration of the Lichfield Canal.
Roger Hanbury, Chief Executive of The Waterways Trust offered us partnership support with fund-raising and negotiations with key players and the opportunity to build on our success with their financial strength.
Brian addressed our urgent need for funding and was pleased to announce that An unnamed private charitable trust has offered a grant of £250,000 for the Lichfield Canal Aqueduct over the BNRR. This is on condition that "the culverts at Churchbridge are built during the construction of the road", and that the Trust’s objectives remain "to restore a through route between Hatherton and Huddlesford junctions".
This announcement therefore puts even more significance on the success of the David Suchet Appeal. The grant for the Aqueduct for the Lichfield Canal is inextricably linked and conditionally bound to the culvert crossings being installed at Churchbridge on the Hatherton Canal during the construction of the BNRR.
David Suchet then spoke with enthusiasm about his commitment to help the Trust. He spoke of his love of the waterways since a small boy and the unique heritage of the Birmingham Canals. He reminded the audience that the West Midlands is reputed to have more miles of canal than Venice. On a personal note he said that his son is studying at Birmingham University and because of this, his visits to Birmingham had caused him to take much interest in the wonderful canals in the area. He states that "these are the motorways of yesterday" and stressed their importance during their own age. He spoke of the BNRR as the motorway of today, and that it should make provision to retain the important "motorways of yesterday". He said that he was very proud to be Vice President of Lichfield and Hatherton Canal Restoration and to give his name to the David Suchet Appeal and spoke from the heart by saying that he would give his "utmost commitment to the cause for as long as I am able" …(thank you David, from all the members of the L & H CRT and all canal and wildlife enthusiasts, environmentalists, walkers and many, many other people for your help…You’re a `star`-oops sorry!)
David Suchet was able to receive in person many donations from the auditorium totalling £2571. This took the total raised to over £100,000.
There was just time for a few questions, the last one being "how long will it take before the restoration is complete and boats can be seen going through from Ogly to Huddlesford junction?" to which Brian Kingshott briskly replied "Can I phone a friend?"
President Eric Wood thanked the participants and everyone departed well satisfied with an event which, in Brian's words, "has strengthened the regard in which the Trust is held - not to mention our finances!".
The Canal Forum was a huge success. It was informative, supportive and most enjoyable. The audience was interested and responsive. All in all a great evening!
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