A New vision for waterways museums
By: Janet Richardson
SUCH is the magnitude of the transfer of the waterways heritage to the Canal & River Trust; it was likened to ‘tectonic plates moving’ by Waterways Trust chief executive Roger Hanbury.
He was addressing the sector’s first conference – The New Vision for Waterways Museums – held recently at the National Waterways Museum in Ellesmere Port, describing it as one of the first events to celebrate the coming of the CRT, the launch of which is now expected to take place in mid July.
Mr Hanbury said the Waterways Trust and the Boat Museum Society had brought the National Waterways Museum to a point of relative success and confidence about its future. “This is important as a landmark in the life of this museum which in the last five years has turned itself round.
“It is a gathering of people who care about industrial and waterways heritage and environment like no others, who value heritage its own right and see the vision of a strong heritage and regeneration.”
Conference chairman Dr Simon Thurley, chief executive of English Heritage and a CRT trustee, told delegates: “Today I think we potentially have established a new forum – a new network where we have begun to think about these issues and it would be nice to build on what we have started today in a process and we can all share in a renaissance which follows the formation of CRT.”
He said the world of museums was undergoing a period of change. With the rapid disappearance of public funding and the Heritage Lottery Fund being hugely oversubscribed, how were they going to survive and achieve financial sustainability?
“It is an important time of industrial archaeology. Now is the time for a new generation to take on the mantle. We all share a challenge – all the attractions on the network need to work together, have a shared vision and purpose.”
The keynote speech was delivered by Sir Neil Cossons, chairman of the CRT’s recently formed Heritage Advisory Panel and described as a champion for the waterways.
He said that before the creation of the canal network which linked the Black Country to London creating the lines of commerce which fuelled the Industrial Revolution, it took nine days to get goods by packhorse from Liverpool to London.
“That is why waterways network and this museum are an important part of this fundamentally crucial story about the transformation of this country into one of the world’s most important industrial nations.
“It is easy to forget this heritage and one of the great messages for all the waterways museums is to get that message across to the public who know nothing about it at all; young people will not know what the industrial revolution was. This is one of the places where you can tell that story.”
Sir Neil stressed the importance of making museums accessible to the wider public, not places for consenting adults in private.
He described the transfer from British Waterways – one of the last nationalised industries from 1947 – to the CRT as moving from a commercially driven enterprise to one where the network and heritage are seen as a prime asset and the largest ever transfer of ownership of heritage assets in Britain.
“The waterways are under stress, very fragile and more threatened today from over use. Most of the people I talk to – boaters, towpath walkers and anglers – value that heritage and being able to get away from the world. In that sense CRT is pressing the green button.”
He said that the Heritage Advisory Panel would be a prime source of advice for the trustees and would be setting out a strategic policy setting out its values and a set of principles for the management of that heritage.
Sir Neil concluded: “The role of museums must be to engage with the wider public who know nothing about the canals and their heritage and be places where they can understand how it all came into being and what it is all about.”
Taking a look at waterway museums from the outside, West Cheshire College principal Sarah Mogel said they had a ‘fantastic’ partnership with the NWM in Ellesmere Port.
“It is fascinating seeing things which made a difference to people’s lives and how they survived. People take the canals and waterways for granted.
“Here we have a driver for our local economy which is based around our waterways. With it is a major opportunity for this museum and we need to think about how the economy is going to be driven in the future by the waterways.”
Ms Mogel said the college, which is largely vocational, had seen a lot of potential at the museum as a massive opportunity for learning and re-engaging people faced with a tough job market with 22% of 16-25 year-olds out of work.
As well as apprentices working on boats in the Heritage Boatyard, business students also work in the museum and young people are among the volunteers.
She concluded: “My view from the outside is one of potential. It has changed tremendously over the past decade and there is still a lot of potential for it to grow and develop and become a beacon to engage the public.”
Behind the scenes at the museum, part II
STAFF and volunteers explained their partnership has evolved since the BBC programme was filmed in 2009.
General manager John Inch said that the 90s and 2000s had seen declining visitor numbers and the difficulties of keeping the collection pristine. Since 2009 the number of volunteers has grown to more than 250.
Youth activity co-ordinator Gaynor Rocca said the Waterways Action Squad launched in October 2009 has created 570 volunteering opportunities in the last three years and is expanding all the time. More than 200 young people have been involved in a wide range of waterways-related activities at the museum including the Boaty Youth Theatre for 12-25 year-olds which meets at the museum every Tuesday evening and summer holiday activities for 12-25 year-olds.
Steve Stamp described the birth of the Heritage Boatyard: “Five years ago we were in a terrible mess, it was not a good time to be a volunteer or a visitor. A group of hardy volunteers working a couple of days a week, we started to realise we could change the culture.
“Out of the blue £20,000 was offered for a project and the Heritage Boatyard was born. We are working together to keep history afloat and want to use the boats to train and pass on skills to a new generation.”
Chris Kay, chairman of the Boat Museum Society explained the NWM’s partnership approach which integrates volunteers with employees and the strategic and operational issues.
BMS manage the recruitment, induction and training needs of volunteers covering on average more than 2000 hours a month across nine work areas.
0 Responses to “A New vision for waterways museums”
Please login or register to post a comment
Current Issue: June 2013
♦ Biggest ever edition
♦ Win Wi-Fi for your boat
♦ Mooring rules to change
♦ Olympian helps to open canal visitor centre
♦ Your M&S joins the clean-up
♦ Stillwater asks the questions that you want answers to
♦ 380 boats for sale
• Next issue on sale: June 27, 2013