Thursday, March 10, 2011

Financially troubled canal trust to abandon iconic canalside HQ

The crisis at the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust has worsened and now its perilous financial position is forcing it to abandon the iconic canalside headquarters on Devizes Wharf that it has occupied on a peppercorn rent from the local authority since 1982.

The former warehouse on Devizes Wharf that is currently home to the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust. Picture by Bob Naylor©

The building houses the Trust's dwindling administrative team, the Canal Museum, which although now a little dated is nonetheless an important educational resource, a regularly used meeting room and parts of the building are sub-let to Devizes Lions Club, Devizes Angling Club and Devizes Canoe Club who all contribute to the annual rent that is a mere £2000 a year (less than £40 a week) with, it is believed, a £1,000 of that being paid by its tenants.

The building has had little preventative maintenance for many years, except for a recent coat of paint to the outside of the building, and claims by the Trust that  "repairs and maintenance, for which the Trust is responsible, are already costing some £40,000 a year"  have been dismissed as 'fanciful' by Trust members.

Successive Trust budgets in the recent past have set aside no money for the essential maintenance that an important historic building such as this inevitably needs to preserve it and because of the neglect of essential routine maintenance to the fabric of the building decay in the flooring in the toilets reached the state where a toilet actually fell through the floor into a room below.

The central heating system which was subject to 'vandalism' attacks when holes were allegedly drilled in a number of radiators over a period of weeks but stopped after police  involvement is now said by the Trust Council to need to be completely replaced.

A recent electrical inspection revealed that not only is the wiring not compliant with present regulations but there are also public safety issues which will need almost £10,000 spent to bring it up to standard.

Mike Rodd, employed to 
bring professional 
management to the Trust.
Picture by Bob Naylor©
The Trust has had a chequered recent financial and governance history.  Having employed Dr Mike Rodd as General Manager with a three-year-funding grant from a local authority to fundraise, increase membership and bring professional management to the Trust it had to terminate his post because the Trust had no accessible funds  — leaving them with a debt of £25,000 to the local authority for the final year's contribution to his salary that had been paid in advance. Dr Rodd has now been co-opted onto Trust Council and been made the Chairman of the Trustees and he is also the Chairman of K&A Canal Enterprise Ltd, the Trust trading arm that was set up to raise funds for the Trust through its trip boats, shops and tearooms.  

Recently three of the shops stopped being staffed by volunteers and they are now being run by commercial operators with no voluntary help — and presumably the shop on Devizes Wharf will close when the building is vacated in September.

The volunteer-run tripboats at Limpley Stoke, Bradford on Avon and Hungerford are a major source of income for Trust Enterprise Ltd and the Trust claim that the newly leased boat operating from Devizes Wharf did not make a loss in its first year of operation. 

Chairman, Mike Rodd said, "The Trust will, of course, continue to seek a funder to restore the building but it is felt unlikely that this will be successful in the present climate. Trust Council has therefore, with great regret, decided to prepare to vacate the building by the end of September this year."

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