The canal network in Scotland has been regenerated over the past 20 years to provide an enhanced environment for recreation, water-based transport and environmental protection. Since the old British Waterways organisation evolved in Scotland in 2012 to become Scottish Canals the focus within the organisation has been on reimagining the 250-year-old inland waterways from derelict and under-used industrial transport arteries into regeneration corridors for tourism and the natural environment.
The organisation has aligned its purpose to the wider Scottish Government aims for the country, and in the latest versions of the Scottish Canals Strategic Plan and Marketing & Communications Strategy documents covering the period from 2020 to 2023, the wider social, cultural and environmental purpose for the organisation and the waterway network has become much more clearly articulated.
Strategic plans can sometimes be somewhat turgid documents, and not necessarily accessible to wider audiences. This is not the case with the Scottish Canal document, moreso if read alongside the communications strategy. Whilst the focus of the organisation is on the cultural and environmental stewardship of a defined waterways and associated land estate, the opportunities for the organisation to play an important role of far wider relevance becomes evident as the management of that estate provides lessons and opportunities of what can be done with the repurposing of heritage and environmental assets and altering the perception for stakeholders and users.
The vision for the organisation has shifted to how people positively interact with the canal estate as green and blue infrastructure, and a set of thematic messages and engagements relevant to different audiences are clearly presented as nested within the requirements of the organisation which at its heart is a combined estate/asset management and stewardship function. The context for the nested messaging is completed by showing the relationship to the wider published Scottish Government ‘Purpose’ against which all publicly funded bodies align themselves.
Our vision is for Scotland’s canals to be a world-class waterway network with a thriving natural environment built upon 250 years of history that benefits communities and all users who live, work, visit and play along our canals.
Scottish Canals vision
The follow-through of purpose to function to message is neatly presented diagrammatically, and the documents effectively provide insight and greater profile for the organisation, and as a good example of the logic and ongoing development of transparent and inclusive corporate planning for organisations in the heritage sector.
The 9 mile long Crinan Canal skirts the edge of the Kilmartin prehistoric landscape. It was constructed to avoid the long sea route round the Mull of Kintyre. The canal runs from Ardrishaig on Loch Gilp to Crinan and the Sound of Jura. The canal was started in 1794, and opened in 1809, with further modifications by Thomas Telford.
The CRT has recently published its latest heritage report. It provides an overview of the the state of conservation across the CRT’s canal network and associated land holdings, and illustrates current conservation and restoration projects. The range of work continues to be impressive, with the report reminding us that the CRT is the 3rd largest owner of protected heritage assets in the country (behind the Church of England and the National Trust). Having moved from being a public corporation (British Waterways) three years ago to an independent charity as the CRT, illustration of its conservation progress is a vital part of not only the stewardship compact with Government, but also the marketing communications around heritage conservation by the organisation designed to garner support in wider society for the organisation and the canal side environment as a place to actively rather than passively engage with. The dual fundamental challenge for the organisation is the stewardship of a dynamic physical environment which has to be managed safely and sensitively (canal breaches can be devastating!) and the fact that the vast majority of its asset base is free to access, as the majority of canal users are on the towpath as opposed to licence-paying boaters.
Notable in the report is the chart illustrating damage to the asset base, listing graffiti and vandalism as the major ongoing problem. This suggests that within urban settings, there is still a lot of progress to be made to encourage wider societal appreciation of the waterways as a community place and recreational asset that needs to be actively looked after.