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Ancoats Canal Project

The Ancoats Canal Project, a volunteer led initiative, was established in 2012. Working in partnership with the national charity the Canal and River Trust, the project works to improve the appearance of, and the ability to enjoy, the Rochdale canal (and subsequently also the Ashton canal) and raise awareness of the canal’s history. Residents and volunteers, often from the Ancoats and New Islington areas of Manchester, come together for monthly meetings and events to improve the canals.

The canal is an old industrial asset cutting through newly gentrifying areas of the city. The involvement of residents is an important element of revitalizing both this old industrial infrastructure but also of a newly developing community.

Here local issues come together with the more general issue of conserving and restoring old industrial infrastructures. A motivation to enhance the physical appearance of the canal and also to use it to host events has been important locally. A set of values to care for and maintain an industrial infrastructure and local space is clearly apparent here. Yet what is also important to recognize is the many thousands of miles of canal network that exist, and the many hundreds of miles of canal network that have been lost, nationally. In this way the project contributes to local development but also to the upkeep of the wider canal network.

The volunteers usually meet on the last Sunday of the month. They undertake a whole range of activities from tow path resurfacing to litter picking, painting, clearing canal cobbles of unwanted and damaging vegetative growth and planting bulbs and shrubs. In addition to the physical remaking of the fabric of the canal, the project also works to build a social community through fishing days, picnics, BBQs and water sports.


An Alternative?


The project was initiated by a local resident and student, Sam Baars. The volunteer group was formed and monthly meetings followed. The work of the group is publicized via new media - Twitter and a Facebook group – and has also been reported by local print and broadcast media. 

What is important in the story of the Ancoats Canal project is changing national conditions. In particular, in 2012 the Canal & River Trust became responsible for 2,000 miles of historic waterways in England and Wales. The significance of this was the scale of the shift to the voluntary sector of state assets. This has led to a need to generate funding and support from a range of interests. This support is needed both at a general level to support the work of the Canal and River Trust but also at a local level to engage volunteers with stretches of waterways.

Waterway adoptions are the way in which local groups work together with the Canal & River Trust’s local teams and partnerships to shape the future of local stretches of canal.  At a hands-on level The Canal and River Trust works at this interface with local volunteers through the local adoption and activities of waterways.

The Ancoats Canal project is an important exemplification of how volunteering and local action can change the material fabric and the uses of a waterway – this is an important issue if one thinks of the new model of organizing care of the canal network nationally in the hands of the Canal and River Trust. This story also tells us about the crucial role of social organization in the project – here a volunteer network of local interests.


This article is published here as part of the Greater Manchester Local Interaction Platform’s aspiration to raise the visibility of different community innovations, grassroots projects and activities in the city-region.

It also draws on SURF's involvement in the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council grant, 'Retrofit 2050' and contributes to understanding of the Remaking of the Material Fabric of the City.

Find out here about the background, purpose and content of ‘The Alternative?’ series of articles on Platform.

Main image published here courtesy of Flickr user Gordon Marino under a Creative Commons licence.