I recently discovered this on a data stick in the bottom of a carrier bag. I wrote it in 2013, but, though personnel have changed a little, the general situation remains normal, so I thought I might as well publish it here.
face the music, and dance.
few years ago we had a visit from Tony Conder and Roger Hanbury, then
curator and chief executive respectively of The Waterways Trust. Tony
paid our work a brilliant compliment, “you're working wonders on
next to nothing” he said. Certainly, up to then the society had led
a hand to mouth existence and it was a wonder we were able to keep
the boats afloat and functioning.
Fiona Jones was working for us, trying to raise funds for our
different projects, I would often have the following conversation
“What we really need is continuous funding for 3 full time
“ Sorry, but there aren't any funders who will do that, we always
have to fit in with their objectives”.
“But we need funding for 3 full time boatbuilders”.
“But there are no funders who will provide that”.
largely to Fiona's tenacity we eventually got funding, in the nick
of time, for Hazel's
rejuvenation. This has funded two people to work on Hazel,
but the other boats have been suffering in the meantime because we
really need someone working full time on maintenance to keep
everything afloat and functioning and to carry out the many stitches
in time that will otherwise cost us dear in the long run.
mentioned that Hazel's
funding came through in the nick of time. She had sunk several times
in the preceding few years and I was doubtful about how long we would
be able to keep her in one piece so that there was actually something
to work from when it came to restoration. Certainly, when we slipped
her we discovered how weak she had become. By the time the
restoration started we had had Hazel
for 23 years. In that time she had been docked numerous times and
essential maintenance carried out, but, nevertheless, it was clear
that rot was steadily eating through the structure of the boat and
there was nothing that we could do about it without the kind of major
replanking job that we've carried out in the past 18 months. The fact
is that, without our 3 full time boatbuilders, both the completed
Hazel and the 5 other
boats will gradually subside back into dereliction.
currently awaiting the time, money and boatyard space include the
Needs her stern end rebuilding
and a new back cabin.
me Not, Needs a mid life
overhaul including renewing the top bends and lining planks, renewing
a lot of the shearing, clothing up and renovating the back cabin, not
to mention overhauling and installing the Bolinder.
, Needs a lot of strengthening of the bow and most of the planks down
the left hand side replacing. This would give an opportunity to put
her on a diet so that she is less likely to get stuck in locks. There
are also ongoing mechanical problems to address.
Needs a complete rebuild similar to the work that is being carried
out on Hazel. We also
need to find a Kromhaut semi diesel engine for her.
Needs a complete rebuild,
similar the work that is being carried out on Hazel.
these jobs, especially Queen
and Elton, are not
going to be carried out overnight, even with our 3 fabulous
boatbuilders, but it's essential that our work on the boats speeds up
so that wood is being replaced faster than it's rotting away. It took
23 years to get work started on Hazel. Queen and
Elton are unlikely to
survive another 23 years without rebuilding, and, at a rate of 23
years per boat, that means poor Elton
would have to wait 46 years for work to start on her.
why can't volunteers do all this work? Once upon a time I used to
spend my spare time firing steam engines on preserved railways.
Sometimes I go for a day out to one, or read about them in the
railway press, and it makes me turn a bright shade of malachite green
to see all the skilled work that is carried out by volunteers. Not
only have volunteer led organisations rescued and mostly restored all
the engines that were once consigned to Barry scrapyard, but now they
are building replicas of the ones that were missed, not just great
express locos like the famous Tornado
but now humble tank engines and, believe it or not, diesels.
is what can be done, but the supply of skilled volunteers for boat
restoration is extemely restricted. There are simply not as many boat
fanatics as there are railway fanatics, and many of those who do
exist can satisfy their boating needs by owning a pleasure boat.
Though the Hazel
project has brought to us some excellent and highly skilled
volunteers, they are still heavily outnumbered by the tasks that need
doing. It would be nice if I could just find volunteers to reliably
do simple jobs like printing and distributing recycling leaflets and
keeping the firewood supplies topped up. We need to keep up the
publicity about what we're doing ( there's another thing, we've never
had a volunteer to take charge of publicity over a sustained period)
in the hope that this will bring in more volunteers, but, relying
entirely on volunteers will not get the boats restored, though
conversely, neither can the job be done without them.
how much would these 3 wise boatbuilders cost? Luckily, many skilled
people are prepared to work for a project like ours for well below
what they could earn doing an easier job for a commercial company,
but the costs are more than just wages. If someone is working full
time they use up a lot of materials, which cost money. They also make
it possible for more volunteers to work alongside them, and they also
use expensive materials. The work that we've been doing on Hazel
with two paid workers has been costing about £50,000 a year. That
works out at £25,000 per worker, or £75,000 for the three. Hardly a
bankers bonus but nevertheless, a lot of money to pluck out of thin
air. Where will it come from?
amazing how many people just assume that we are getting huge grants
to underwrite our work. I often get asked by people who have just
taken on a historic boat where to apply. The reality is that you only
get grant money if your project fulfils the objectives of the funder.
Mostly these are social objectives of some kind. Pure heritage funds
are scarce and fiercely fought over by well resourced museums and
heritage railways etc. The funding that we've had for Hazel
is purely to do with the work that she is going to do when she goes
into service. Our funders probably couldn't care less that she is the
last Runcorn wooden header. While it is entirely possible that we
will be able to find more projects that fit with the objectives of a
funder, there is always the danger that we will turn somersaults with
our plans in order to fit a funders objectives, only to end up
reluctantly running a project that wasn't what we really wanted to
do. Luckily we have only had to very slightly tweak the pre existing
not knocking grant funding, I'm sure it can play an important part,
but it's always likely to be the icing on the cake. This is how it
should be. Charities that rely too heavily on grants are always
deeply vulnerable to recessions, government cuts and changes of
policy on the part of funders. It also needs a lot of rather tedious
work, not only in filling in the forms but in gathering the
information that they need. For example, while we have figures for
volunteer hours at the boatyard and in the shop, we have no idea of
the overall annual total of volunteer hours, which is something that
funders want to know. We need more volunteers with the time, skill
and inclination to put together all the necessary information, fill
in the forms and, most important, talk with funders. At the moment
Nick Lowther is doing a great job on this, but there's only one of
Hazel is in service
she will, inshallah, earn her keep, but she shouldn't really be
funding the other boats. She needs to cover her costs and put a bit
to one side for her own long term maintenance. I calculate that we
will need to put aside £6000 a year to ensure that Hazel
never falls into dereliction again. If she starts earning more than
running costs plus £6000 then we should be looking at reducing
charges for her users. Associated with developing the Hazel
project will be the development of a training project to make sure
that we are never stuck for qualified skippers. While initially this
will be for our own purposes, there is scope for making some money at
this in the longer term, but I've no idea how much. We need someone
to do a realistic business plan.
growth of the WCBS has been quite amazing, and quite scary at times,
like riding a powerful motorbike that you don't know how to control.
In 1988, the year that Hazel
was donated to the infant Wooden Canal Craft Trust, the total annual
income was £3200, with expenditures of £2500. I don't yet have
figures for 2012, but the total turnover is going to be well over
£100,000. This has its down side as some people see us as well off
and so are more mercenary in their dealings with us than used to be
the case. The fact is that for the last 3 years expenditure has
exceeded income, something that can't carry on for too much longer.
The only reason that we've been able to afford to run a deficit is
that we have some, rapidly dwindling, reserves, put by when we had
the good fortune to be given a rent free shop for 14 months during
main engine for this growth, since 1996, has been the recycling
project and its offshoots, the market stall and various shops. I
don't, again, have the 2012 figures yet, but it looks likely that our
current shop, a former woolworths and the biggest charity shop in
Ashton, will turn over about £60,000 this year. The down side of
this is that its running costs are likely to be round about £50,000,
putting only about £10,000 into WCBS funds, which is mostly
swallowed up in overheads, licenses, insurance etc. The reality of
running a charity shop is that, if you are paying a market rent for
your premises, the main beneficiary of your efforts is going to be
the landlord. That's not to say that it's not worthwhile renting a
shop, it gives us security of tenure. We were very grateful for the
free shop mentioned above, but it was a bit of a nightmare when we
were given 11 days to vacate the premises because it was going to be
current shop has a problem. When we moved in, Stamford St was a busy
shopping street, not quite in the very centre of Ashton, but not far
off. Gradually, under the influences of out of town shopping, online
shopping and the recession, the town centre has been imploding. Many
of the shops on Stamford St are now empty, others have become offices
or takeaways. The footfall is reducing. Despite this, Sarah's efforts
have kept the shop income up, though the last few months have been a
do we move this business on so that it will generate the £75000 a
year in profits that we need. We really need to start being a bit
more enterprising. I get a bit sick of hearing all the excuses for
not doing things, just drifting. One of the big ideas for our current
shop was to start a cafe there, but it's never happened.
many of our customers are now buying online, we need to start moving
there ourselves. Some work has been done on this recently and we're
now earning about £100 a month through online sales. This could be
expanded greatly , and a lot of the goods that currently goes to the
tip turned into money,with more volunteers to do the work, yet when
it comes up for discussion I'm always told it's not worth bothering.
thing will be to look for another free shop. Our esteemed treasurer
will, of course, point out that nothing is completely free, there are
always electricity bills and water rates etc to pay, but the
potential income from rent free, albeit temporary premises, is huge.
The gain for the landlord is that they get property that is awaiting
redevelopment looked after and can get it back when they need it. The
problem then, of course,
is staffing it. This genuinely is a challenge and, despite 'Big
Society' rhetoric, government policies are actually discouraging
genuine volunteers. However, we managed it before and, with real
effort in recruiting volunteers, and with possibly a paid manager on
a short term contract in case the shop has to close suddenly, it can
be done again. I for one am willing to put some effort into this once
Hazel is finished.
Any more offers? We really need more volunteers who are able to get
stuck in and make things happen.