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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Honour recognises a lifetime of canal work

Sally Ash
Former head of boating with CRT
Picture by Bob Naylor: WaterMarx©
by Di Harris

Sally Ash, who received the MBE in this year's Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to Britain's canals, has had a life-long passion for the waterways.

Whilst studying in Reading she became active in the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust’s battle to get the canal restored. She was involved in the Trust’s Reading Branch and she became the K&A Canal Trust’s sales officer, traveling to shows most weekends with a stall selling canal merchandise, recruiting new members and spreading the message that the canals should not be allowed to die. She was also busy raising money for the restoration by collecting and selling old newspapers — what she calls “grass roots stuff”.

A post-graduate research project introduced her to British Waterways (BW) and she applied for a researcher’s post when it became vacant in 1975, That was the beginning of a life-long career working with the waterways. Sally stayed with BW until she retired as Head of Boating for the newly formed Canal and River Trust (CRT) earlier this year. 

Sally’s love of canals began at a very young age. Her father had been in the Navy during WW2 and he retained a love of the water, which he passed on to his daughters. They took regular family boating holidays as soon she and her sister could swim. Sally was nine. For Sally, these family boating holidays were the highlight of the year – always an adventure because nothing ever worked and the canals were very run down. But they were having such a great time that she thought, we can’t let the canals die. So she and her sister got involved in the campaign to keep them open.

When she was 17 she read one of her father's books, written by Robert Aikman, where she saw an advertisement for the K&A Canal Trust, and she joined straight away.

After a life-time of enjoying the canals it is not surprising that Sally feels passionately that young people need to be introduced to the waterways or that she would do something about it, so when she retired she immediately started volunteering with a community boating organisation close to her home. 

And she still proudly owns the book by Robert Aikman that originally led her to the K&A at the tender age of 17.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Queen’s Birthday honour for K&A Canal restoration stalwart

by Di Harris

Mike Wyatt. Picture by Bob Naylor: WaterMarx©
Forty years of unstinting voluntary work on the restoration and promotion of the Kennet & Avon Canal by Mike Wyatt of Reading has been rewarded with the award of the BEM (British Empire Medal).

Mike, who is a member of the Reading Branch of the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust, caught the inland waterways bug in1969 when an army friend asked him to crew his boat to Worcester. The following year Mike hired a boat and he joined the K&A Canal Trust shortly afterwards at a time when the canal was in a very poor state – and the towpath no better.

He recalls numerous work parties clearing saplings from along the overgrown towpath — and sponsored walks that needed special signage for participants to navigate their way safely. He helped restore Bulls Lock near Newbury and Garston Lock (one of K&A’s two remaining turf-sided locks). More recently Mike has been Harbour Master for the Reading Water Fest, working with other Reading Branch members to plan and organise the water-based activities. 

Mike was Vice Chairman of Reading Branch for many years and he tried hard not to become Chairman, but the calling came in 2005 and he was Chair of Reading Branch for two and a half years, standing down in 2008 at the ripe age of 79.

It was Mike’s idea for the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust to celebrate the completion of the £29 million HLF canal restoration project by presenting the Queen with a Declaration of Gratitude, thanking her for her support in the past and reflecting the wording of the original petition sent to her 50 years before. 

Mike and his wife Audrey, along with Gerry and Maureen Thorne, took the framed Declaration of Gratitude by boat from Reading to Devizes collecting signatures to be bound into a book to present to the Queen. K&A Canal Trust President at the time Sir Anthony Durant, who had been Vice Chamberlain whilst he was MP for Reading and knew the Lord-Lieutenant of Berkshire, arranged a 15-minute audience with the Queen for himself, Mike and Peter Crawford, the Reading Branch Chair at the time. Mike remembers the Queen speaking easily and knowledgeably about the canal. He told her that the original petition appeared to have been lost by the National Archive and as they were leaving Mike recalls hearing a voice say “Don’t lose this one”. A royal command if ever there was one.