Audrey Smith OBE is to stand down from her role as Chair of the Lancaster Canal Regeneration Partnership at the end of April.
Audrey brought strong leadership to the post, and extensive knowledge of canal restoration activity gained from her previous role as chair of the Inland Waterways Association.
Soon after her appointment in April 2016 a project officer with project management and fundraising skills was recruited, and the partnership began to raise the profile of its aspiration to increase usage of the full Northern Reaches route (both dry and watered sections) of the Lancaster Canal.
Ever since, work has been under way to create a multi-use leisure Towpath Trail, connecting rural communities along the route and encouraging residents and visitors alike to rediscover and celebrate this forgotten industrial heritage.
Asked what she hopes her successor will achieve, Audrey said: “The major driving force energising the partnership is the potential of the Lancaster Canal to create new opportunities for leisure, tourism and economic development in South Cumbria and Lancashire whilst bringing health and wellbeing benefits to local communities. The new Chair will be instrumental in driving forward the strategic direction of the Partnership’s great aspiration for the Towpath Trail and working closely with an enthusiastic Board”.
Reflecting on the past four years, Audrey summarised the highlights of her tenure as:
- A series of public engagement events led to both South Lakeland District Council and the Inland Waterways Association offering financial support and a successful bid to the Arts Council National Lottery fund resulted in the production of “The Lanky”, the world’s first canal comic book which was launched at the Lakes International Comic Arts Festival in Kendal in 2017.
- The partnership working closely with The Canal & River Trust following the disastrous storms Desmond and Eva in December 2015 to secure funding to enable the restoration and reopening of the Grade II listed Stainton Aqueduct, near Sedgwick. The successful bid unlocked £1.5m from the National Lottery Heritage Fund towards a total restoration value of £2.2m. The project is currently funding repairs to Stainton Aqueduct and also helping to develop other key sites along the Lancaster Canal, including Hincaster Tunnel and Sedgwick Aqueduct, and promote new educational and volunteering opportunities along the waterway as part of the Partnership’s Kendal to Lancaster Towpath Trail.
- During 2018 the partnership commissioning a research project by students at Lancaster University who surveyed local residents and potential visitors from outside the area. Their findings confirmed there is a huge appetite for a long distance waterway path, linking communities along the route of the Lancaster Canal. People are particularly keen to have the benefit of an all-weather surface, with accessible gates, reduced slopes well-managed vegetation.
- 2019 marked the bicentenary of the completion of the Lancaster Canal to Kendal in 1819, and a wide variety of celebratory events involving local communities took place along the entire length of the canal. Trail boaters brought their craft to the in-water stretch of canal at Crooklands for the IWA’s National Trail Boat Festival and a tea party was hosted by the Canal & River Trust on 18 June marking the anniversary of the opening. Children from Holme Primary School in Carnforth even sang Happy Birthday to celebrate the Lanky’s 200th birthday.
Only the second person to chair this partnership Audrey assumed the role in April 2016 as successor to Hal Bagot JP, DLL. Audrey now intends to spend her free time enjoying time with her family, pet dog and much-beloved waterways.
The Canal Partnership now turns its attention to recruiting a new Chair who will lead in delivering this flagship project to improve accessibility and interpretation along the Lancaster Canal.
Should you be interested in finding out more information on the Chair role, you are encouraged to contact the Lancaster Canal Regeneration Partnership via their website www.lcrp.org.uk.