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Works to make a popular stretch of Caldon Canal towpath more accessible and user-friendly for the local community are complete and were officially opened by Charlotte Atkins, chair of the Canal & River Trust’s Central Shires waterway partnership, on 27 June.
The Caldon Canal towpath through Cheddleton has been rebuilt to give walkers, cyclists and disabled visitors a clean, green traffic-free route, between two of the area’s most important and popular historic attractions.
The ‘Connecting the Heritage’ project has seen the Canal & River Trust improve 1.2km of towpath linking the Churnet Valley Railway Station and Cheddleton Flint Mill making it easier for people to visit both.
The project has also included the creation of a wheelchair-friendly boat access point at the Flint Mill, specially designed in conjunction with The Beatrice Charity which provides boat trips for those with a need to get afloat, along with the installation of new visitor moorings near to the steam railway station to enable boaters to stop and use the shops, pubs and other facilities, providing a welcome boost to the local economy.
The improvements are the first big community-inspired project to be delivered as part of the Churnet Valley Living Landscape Partnership (CVLLP) which is aimed at protecting, enhancing and celebrating the special landscapes of the Churnet Valley.
The project came about after discussions with Cheddleton Parish Council, local residents and business owners showed that the local community could really benefit from an improved towpath which could be enjoyed by people of all ages and abilities.
The £200,000 project has been part funded by CVLLP with additional funding being provided by Communities Mean Business, the Canal & River Trust and the Garfield Weston Foundation.
The project has also benefitted from significant involvement of volunteers from the Caldon & Uttoxeter Canals Trust and the local branch of The Inland Waterways Association.
The towpath improvements form part of a wider project being delivered by the CVLLP.
The Partnership has been awarded a grant of £1.89m from Heritage Lottery Fund and aims to deliver a range of schemes designed to enable local communities to rediscover their local heritage and to provide a boost to the social economy with initiatives such as training schemes for young people.
Charlotte Atkins, chair of Canal & River Trust’s Central Shires waterway partnership said; “It’s great to see a project that’s been driven by local people come to fruition in this way. We know from our discussions that the local community are passionate about their local canal and were keen to see it made more enjoyable for people on bikes, in wheelchairs or with pushchairs.
“It’s been a fantastic partnership effort but we couldn’t have done it without input from local people and I’m really looking forward to seeing those same people getting out onto the towpath and really making the most of the beautiful Churnet Valley on their doorstep.”
Cllr John Tunna, Chairman of Cheddleton Parish Council said; “We are delighted that the reconstruction work, carried out by the Canal & River Trust, on the towpath linking two of our major historic sites, has been completed.
“The Council recognises the hard work, effort and commitment shown by the Trust and congratulates them and the Caldon Canal volunteers on the successful conclusion of the project.
“We expect that it will be a major asset for all the many local people and tourists who visit our beautiful valley.”
Julie Arnold from the Caldon & Uttoxeter Canals Trust said, “The local waterways volunteers have been working on the campaign towards towpath improvements for a number of years: interviewing towpath users, arranging village consultations and undertaking vegetation clearance plus surveying the route with Canal & River Trust engineers.
They are delighted that this has led to these partnership projects that are now delivering improvements for everybody that uses the Caldon Canal through the Churnet Valley.”
The volunteers campaign got underway on 4 March 2007, when a Cheddleton Waterway Community Day was held and the village was invited to come down to the canal for a walk, to enjoy a fun Sunday afternoon out and to say how valuable the canal is to your community.
The event was organised by IWA Stoke-on-Trent branch in partnership with the Caldon & Uttoxeter Canals Trust, Stoke-on-Trent Boat Club, the Beatrice Charity - the trip boat for children with a need to get afloat and Cheddleton Flint Mill Industrial Heritage Trust.
Charlotte Atkins was Staffordshire Moorlands MP at the time and joined in the event with a special outdoor "MP Surgery" so constituents could tell her how important the Caldon Canal was as part of their day-to-day life and their business livelihood.
The information was used to support her call upon the Government at the time to reverse the cuts in funding that had been imposed upon British Waterways and the Environment Agency.
The local waterways organisations told her of their concerns that cuts imposed by DEFRA would lead to deterioration of waterways and closures - as happened to the Caldon Canal in the 1960s and 70s.
This led to more campaigning to help secure long-term funding for inland waterways; in 2008 Charlotte was given the first ever Parliamentarian of the Year Award by The Inland Waterways Association in recognition of her campaigning to promote the funding and regeneration of waterways.
The local volunteers continued their campaign for towpath improvements, taking part in the development of a Village Plan as part of an initiative led by Cheddleton Parish Council and the Staffordshire Moorlands Community and Voluntary Services.
Public consultation showed the canal route through the village was heavily used, despite its pitted state and extremely muddy conditions.
When the Communities Mean Business funding stream was announced the Caldon & Uttoxeter Canal Trust outlined the “Linking the Heritage” concept at an ideas workshop in December 2009.
Meanwhile the local waterway manager earmarked some funding towards new visitor moorings, as British Waterways transitioned to the Canal & River Trust.
However, major funding was needed to achieve the vision – and the opportunity for this came about when the Churnet Valley Living Landscape Partnership came together and after months of community consultation and detailed development the Heritage Lottery Fund announced their support of the Landscape Conservation Action Plan and its many projects.
To reiterate the rallying call from Spring 2007 - and celebrate the towpath improvement campaign coming to fruition in Summer 2014: Everybody is invited to come down to the Caldon Canal at Cheddleton for a walk and a fun day out – enjoy your waterway today, and demonstrate how waterways help keep our community alive!