History The Story of the Trust
Boats to Lacock Part 3

In the final part of his potted history of the Group,
Neil Rumbol looks back at the last decade and brings us up to the present day.

By 1984 as we have seen, the active nucleus of those running the Group had sunk to an all-time low. However it is said that things are never quite as bad as they seem, and that was the case with the Group at that time.

Restoration work and plans continue

The scene 'on the ground' was brighter in that the first stage of the Moredon Project came on line during that year, work continued at Calne and negotiations were taking place at various other points in attempts to secure additional work sites.

Activities along the Western section of the canal started to increase under John Henn's influence as he began to recruit new people into active roles. The Group published its 'Boats to Lacock (and beyond)' document, which outlined ways of making the canal navigable from Semington using routes including the River Avon through Melksham.

Development of the structure & status of the Group

The Group had never thought seriously about filling formal positions such as Patrons, but towards the end of 1984, we managed to persuade the late Jack Dalby to become the Group's first President - a task which Jack carried out superbly on behalf of the Group for the rest of his life. Jack's interest in the canal is legendary and his active support in this way helped the Group's standing enormously.

Similarly, the Group had never had a chairman per se. I had always been Secretary, and chaired all the meetings, although my role of virtually running the Group was diminishing rapidly with the frequent arrival of new blood. No one had ever been found for the Chairman's job, and none of the active members would take on the role.

My personality was such that although I was happy to chair the meetings, I was not the ideal person to front the Group to the world, although I did many times. In 1985 we located a partially retired engineer who was interested in our work, and Noel Griffiths became our first Chairman. Noel's professionalism and also his availability during working hours made him the ideal choice, and his efforts were an invaluable complement to those of John Henn in building the Group further. Noel enlisted the help of a friend, Dudley Williams. Dudley became Vice-Chairman and also developed our first committee to look at long-term advanced planning such as the determination of possible routes through/round Swindon, rather than living from day-to-day as the Group had previously.

Having fought and won the appeal at Wootton Bassett to no avail several years earlier, the Group anticipated a similar problem early in 1985, when it discovered at short notice that Shrivenham Arch Bridge in Station Road was likely to be demolished because of problems with leakage. Panic set in and funds were raised to try to save the bridge, only for us to be told that the problem had been traced to a faulty access cover and the bridge was quite safe. Later that year the bridge was declared a Grade II listed structure as a result of our application.

As the importance of the Group became more widely recognised we updated and revised our Constitution in association with the Charity Commission, and at the end of 1985 we became a Registered Charity. Our administration was developing steadily under the leadership of three Regional Co-ordinators, although the east end post was at the time continually changing and so the west and central sections continued more effectively than the east end.

In 1986 we had our first positive written support from the councils, when West Wilts District Council issued a Policy Statement indicating its intention to safeguard the line of the canal wherever possible, and subsequently other councils made similar supportive statements in due course. We had been advised that we should become a limited company, and during 1986 we were in the process of preparing a suitable constitution with the help of the solicitors of the Inland Waterways Association.

During that year our treasurer had to leave us and failing any other offers, I took on the job for 12 months in addition to my other duties.

Plans for the Seven Locks

It is not possible to cover each work site in depth in a review of this nature, but suffice to say that he work sites previously mentioned continued to be developed wherever possible, and we started looking at what we could do with Seven Locks with the idea from Peter Boyce of developing the locks initially as a museum of canal construction until such time as they could be fully restored.

Eastern End catches up

As we moved into our 10th. anniversary year, a development occurred at the eastern end which was to lead both to that section of canal 'catching up' with the western end in restoration terms, and subsequently also to the development of a much more professional approach to the Group's work. The development was the involvement of Pete and Val Scatchard and their appointment as East-end Co-ordinators. They approached the job in a professional way by firstly evaluating what they wanted to do and then going about it. So in 1987, the Group's AGM was held at Lain's Barn near Ardington, the first time it had been east of Swindon for many years.

Liaison with Local councils and other bodies

To facilitate the involvement of the various councils in our work, a Liaison Group was formed which included representatives from North Wilts District Council, West Wilts district Council, Wiltshire County Council and Wessex Water, as well as the IWA and ourselves. This meant that there was a continuous flow of information both ways and so everyone was aware of the others' thoughts and activities.

We become a limited company

The three co-ordinators were drawing new people all the time, and the Group was flourishing. new work sites were begun at Foxham and at Elm Farm (Grove), and in the Autumn of 1988 the Group was incorporated as a Company Limited by Guarantee as well as being recognised as a Registered Charity. The preparation for this change had been financed by the IWA and in recognition of this the Group's Council of Management now included a IWA-nominated member.

Calne section Opened

In June 1989 the restored section at Calne was formally opened by Lord Shelborne, and this was to be followed by the later development of the wetland reserve associated with the restored canal. We successfully fought a planning application involving the coal yard at Grove, so that space was left for the canal to be routed round the planned houses, but the late construction of the Barwell Link road only added to the problems in this particular area.

Branches are formed

We began to see the need for branches of the Group with such a long canal, and also the need for these branches to be actively involved in all aspects of the work of the Group. Wootton Bassett Branch was formed in 1989 to be followed by branches in all major towns near the canal, except Cricklade at present.

Problems with administration are overcome

The Spring of 1990 saw us with two major administrative problems: Noel Griffiths resigned as Chairman after several years' invaluable service, and I found myself taking on the job of Membership Secretary (having relinquished the treasurership some time previously) as the second of two Membership Secretaries in as many years failed to deliver.

 The Group was, in fact, left in a far worse state than we thought. Chris Toms and I banded together (again) to save the situation and it took nearly two years to clear up all the problems created because one person had failed to tell us he was unable to deal with the membership matters, and had left them unattended and unknown to anyone for some six months. Chris Toms later became Membership Secretary which he has carried out successfully ever since.

The lack of a Chairman was filled by Peter Scatchard's timely elevation from East-end Co-ordinator, and he has gone on to unite and lead the Group ever since. Peter's professional chairmanship has seen the Group prosper and develop as never before, when the amount of work for volunteers had become way in excess of what anyone could be expected to handle. it has seen the advent of Branch Representatives on Council, and the appointment of a full-time Project Officer to handle the Group's affairs in a way which volunteers who are not available during the day could not hope to do. The recent establishment of Forum Meetings at which members can put their views to Council is a further advancement to bring the membership into the decision-making process. We appointed a Group Secretary, which has allowed me to reduce my involvement to that of Company Secretary, this change being forced upon me by personal circumstances.

Looking forward from the mid 1990s

So we have reached the present day, and although I do not intend this to turn into fortune-telling, what does the future hold? We have to ensure that our Branches remain involved and we have to keep their members interested. Recently some Branches have lost a lot of their active members, and this cannot be good for the Group or the canal.

We must help to ensure that there is enough to enable us to recruit new members when others' interests change and they take their support elsewhere. It is important to work with all those who influence the canal in any way, and to negotiate and compromise when difficulties appear insurmountable. We have again tried and failed to get finance from the DoE for our work or our Project Officer, and we must try to ensure that this valuable source of finances secured in 1995. The future is bright and the canal will be restored, but all those interested must do as much as they can as volunteers to ensure that result.

Reproduced from "Dragon-Fly" June 1994