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‘I Dig Canals’: Women’s Contribution to Waterways Restoration secures National Lottery support

We are delighted to announce that we have received support from The National Lottery Heritage Fund for the ‘I Dig Canals’ project . Thanks to National Lottery players, the project will capture and share the memories of women who helped save our inland waterways from closure and destruction after the Second World War.

During WWII the inland waterways experienced a final flourish as a cargo-carrying network, before entering a steep decline. Thanks to energetic campaigners the canals were returned to use and are now an important part of our industrial heritage. But the part women played has often been overlooked; this project will capture the memories of women in the Black Country who are now in their 70s and 80s and ensure that their stories are available for future generations.

Alarum would like to hear from women in the Black Country who took part in canal restoration or grew up near the canal – women who may think their contribution isn’t important or interesting, but whose memories will add to the rich picture of the battle to re-open derelict waterways.

Co-Director, Heather Wastie has vivid childhood memories of the period when her family were heavily involved in campaigning on the Black Country canals with her mother and father and their heritage narrow boat, Laurel. “There was one occasion when my mother organised a VIP trip for local dignitaries, including doing all the catering. Whatever the event, she was there to look after me and my two brothers, and make sure there was food on the table. She also wrote the log book. Some of her entries in the boat log, although humorous, show how she had to keep her wits about her: ‘Lost one tee shirt in the canal (no boy inside)’.”

We’re delighted to have received this support thanks to National Lottery players,” says Co-Director, Kate Saffin. “We know that there are many unheard stories of the canals which are still just about in living memory and we’re looking forward to honouring those women who worked so hard, often with no recognition at all.”

The heritage and research will be shared through creative writing workshops; celebration events; podcasts; a pop-up exhibition; a short film and a book celebrating women’s contribution under the title ‘I Dig Canals’, a 1970s waterways slogan. The Canal and River Trust, the Waterways Archive, local canal and community groups have welcomed the project as addressing a gap in our knowledge of the period and have pledged their support.

This project represents an important opportunity to capture and document the life stories and associated material of a historic period that will soon be beyond living memory. As part of our own National Lottery funded project we have encountered some of the many important stories of everyday lives that were spent working and living on the canal network, all of which has changed beyond recognition. It’s vital that these stories – and particularly those from the little heard women’s perspective – are recorded, archived and celebrated”. Geoff Broadway, Living Memory project

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