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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.

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