23 April 2024

The 2024 Annual Waterways Restoration Conference was held in the Creative Hub at Northampton University, attracting over 100 delegates on a sunny Saturday in April. The event, which is jointly organised by the Inland Waterways Association and Canal & River Trust, was opened by Julie Sharman (Chief Operating Officer at Canal & River Trust). The theme this year focused on inclusion, collaboration, training, skills and sustainable planning.

Keynote speakers included Eoin Harris of Canal & River Trust who spoke on the topic of environmental constraints and opportunities in restoration projects. Eoin’s presentation inspired some thoughtful actions that trusts and societies can take moving forward to ensure that their projects comply with legislation and they take advantage of any opportunities created by their development work.

Eoin was followed by Mark Bevan and Francis Holden of Kuso Construction, who specialise in temporary works and were able to provide clarity on the topic and explain some of the basic lower-level tasks that are involved in temporary works. During the presentation, they provided examples of how people often fail to meet standards and the consequences of these standards not being met. A lively Q&A session ensued after their talk.

The final speaker of the afternoon was Mike Palmer, of IWA’s Waterway Recovery Group, who talked of the importance of real skills training in the practical activities undertaken by restoration groups. He also explained where and how the organisations can help and support them. Mike mentioned the new Practical Restoration Handbook which is due to be launched and explained other ways that IWA/WRG aim to lead on best practice within the inland waterways restoration sector. During the presentation, George Rogers of Chesterfield Canal Trust gave attendees a glimpse of what might be in store for next year’s Canal Camps. He is working closely with the sites team, and they are starting to talk to any group who may be interested in the possibility of holding a camp at their site in 2025.

Delegates also had the opportunity to participate in two of the following workshops:

  • Mental and physical challenges in restoration volunteering – Claire Cavender (Buckingham Canal Society) and Jenny Hodson (IWA)
  • Creating capacity for restoration – Chris Madge (Derby and Sandiacre Canal Trust), George Rogers (Chesterfield Canal Trust), Terry Cavender (Buckingham Canal Society), and the IWA Restoration Hub High Level Panel
  • Diversifying your volunteer base – Jenny Hodson (IWA) and Darren Starling (Canal & River Trust)
  • Campaign and membership management within a small team – Lisa Mant (Cotswold Canals Trust)

This year, rather than a post-conference tour of a local restoration project, attendees took part in a walk around the local area during lunchtime which was led by John Pomfret. It also involved a display by members of the Canal & River Trust hydrology team who demonstrated their flume tank. After the walk, delegates watched a webinar and YouTube footage from the Angling Trust on invasive species clearance and also had time to network and share best practice tips with one another.

Attendees than enjoyed a brief update on the Fund Britain’s Waterways campaign followed by a closing speech by IWA National Chair, Mike Wills.

We would like to thank Paul Rodgers for his excellent compèring of the event, the wonderful volunteers on the reception desk and in the car park, IWA Northampton Branch for their overall support, and Terry from Buckingham Canal Society for his support in the buildup to the event. Also thank you to everyone who attended on the day, we hope you got as much out of it as we, the organisers, did. We look forward to seeing you again next year at a new venue, with fresh topics inspired by the restoration field. Dates, venues and topics will be decided as soon as the team have had a chance to review the feedback from this year’s event and your suggestions for future ones.