50 Years of the GCS

Grantham Canal Society 50th Birthday Celebration

On Sunday July 28th, at a rain swept Woolsthorpe Depot, a group gathered to celebrate 50 years of progress by the Grantham Canal Society.  Based on an idea by the Grantham Civic Society (represented on the 28th by Marilyn Campbell), and following a meeting in “The Plough” at Hickling, the infant society was chaired by Garland Grylls.  The family link was made by the welcome presence at the celebration of his daughter Jane, current GCS Treasurer and Membership Secretary.

Two of the original members from 1969 were at the depot, Chris Tizzard and Jim Barker, representing those who carried the flag of canal restoration through the dark days of the 1970’s/ early ‘80’s.  They stemmed attempts to obliterate the canal by turning it into a linear rubbish dump, helped thwart the mining of the Vale of Belvoir (subsidence would have destroyed the levels) and challenged the indifference/ negativity of British Waterways in their attitude to the canal.

Also present was Francis Bailey, one of the key players of the 1990s and 2000s.  He was instrumental in setting up what became the Hickling Reach Project.  This was the first real partnership on the Grantham Canal between the Department of the Environment, Nottinghamshire County Council, British Waterways and the Grantham Navigation Association.  Facilitated by Ian White, regional director of British Waterways, the Hickling Basin was rejuvenated, nearly 3 miles of canal dredged and 3 new accommodation bridges installed.  Fran also led the Grantham Canal Partnership for several years, building the organisation back up before handing over to Tony Wilkinson and Peter Stone.

In 2008 the chairmanship of the Grantham Canal Society was taken up by Mike Stone.  A period of restructuring and re-organisation shaped the society to better tackle the project and a number of new members and volunteers joined the team.  The biggest project in the restoration history of the canal was launched under Mike’s leadership in 2015 – the restoration of Locks 15 and 14 has been a partnership between the Heritage Lottery Fund, Canal and River Trust and the Grantham Canal Society.  As it moves towards a successful conclusion in 2020 several other projects are in various stages of development and implementation, society membership has nearly tripled and stands in excess of 650 and 70/80 actives volunteers deliver a range of restoration activities and services to the public and the wider community.

The future for the restoration looks brighter than probably ever before.  The evolving partnership between GCS and the Canal and River Trust promises real progress.  The Trust were represented by Karen Rice, the CRT Project Manager for Locks 15/14  – if anyone understands the productive evolution of the working relationship between GCS and CRT it is she – a process to which she made a major contribution.

Also present were Cllr. Jackie Smith (chair of South Kesteven District Council) and Kelham Cooke (Deputy Leader).  SKDC have been consistently supportive of GCS efforts over the years and we were pleased to welcome them and acknowledge that support.  From the Nottinghamshire end of the canal we welcomed Tina Combellack and Neil Clarke, councillors on Rushcliffe Borough Council (Neil also on Nottinghamshire County Council).  Both have been long time supporters of the canal restoration project and we look forward to that continuing as the society looks to the launch of the Cropwell Bishop Dry Section Project in the very near future.

So the GCS made it to 50 – real progress has been made, more challenges to pick up – but we are firmly on the journey.  In acknowledging the achievements of our predecessors, recognising our current progress we are realistic about those future challenges.  As volunteers, in the past much was weighed against us, but we have the vision, the proven skills and stamina to complete the restoration.