Heritage Lottery Grant
During the mid-nineties a co-incidence happened and we at Stourbridge Navigation Trust were very lucky!
The Government passed an Act that set up the National Lottery to support local causes and the Stourbridge Navigation Trust were looking for a large sum to continue their restoration of the area around the Bonded Warehouse.
The Trust made the decision to get in on the act and launched a Heritage Lottery bid. The bid was led by Chris Dyche and David Caunt on behalf of the Trust and both started on a steep learning curve. We were lucky that the same was true for the Lottery Officer. Unlike the present system where several part bids, initial, interim and final, are required, we were so close to the start of the bidding system that it was all condensed into one submission and, compared to the present, relatively “easy”. Much of the bidding was done by telephone conversations between us and our Lottery Officer although a weighty tome was posted to the Fund. The whole process was rapid by today’s standards but still took us the best part of two years. The bid became known as the Stourbridge Heritage Courtyard renovation project.
Just before the General Election in 1997 we were informed that our bid had been granted (by a telephone call!) but, due to the Election, could not be announced until the election was over – it was deemed to be politically sensitive! So we became the owners of almost £750,000 but it did not burn a hole in our pockets as grant was only paid after the work had been completed and accounts paid – a real cash flow problem that the Trust had no means of overcoming.
To do all the works, an informal Partnership was formed between Dudley Council, British Waterways and the Trust with each having two members on the controlling Board. The Council Officers appointed to this Partnership were the Chief Legal Officer, John Polychronakis, and a senior accountant and they ensured that each party to the Partnership acted responsibly and legally but more importantly the Council acted as bankers and so resolved the cash flow problems. British Waterways appointed their Regional Manager, David Green, and a senior engineer to the Partnership and were responsible for commissioning and over-seeing the canal works. The Partnership used the Trust Architect, John Greaves-Smith for all non-canal oriented works. Planning the works started soon after the election in 1997 and work started on-site in late 1997 on the various parts of the whole as many of the parts of work were independent of the whole.
The Heritage Lottery appointed their own reporting engineer from Mott Macdonald who attended most meetings of the Partnership. Prior to each meeting he carried out an on-site inspection of the works almost always accompanied by the Trusts representatives who were able to bend his ear!
The first physical work to be completed was the new Dry Dock and this was opened to customers on completion – the first boat on the dock, named Dadford, being that of a Trust member.
The renovation of the old Stourbridge Canal Company Offices, including the Work Shop behind the Offices, began very quickly as the Trust had plans for what was required and a contract was let to a local building firm, G.T.Wall. They also took on the contract for the building of the reclaimed bridge over the narrows with John Greaves-Smith researching many archives for the designs to replace the many missing pieces.
Alongside this work at the Stourbridge end of the arm, British Waterways contracted the work to pile, brick and lay the tow path from Stourbridge to Wordsley Junction and renovate the various bridges over the canal. In the early days we had held a public exhibition for local residents to view the proposals and comment. We took this opportunity to advise them that the piling operation would be noisy but all comments were favourable, including those residents who worked night shifts. They all appreciated what an improvement it would make.
The most difficult part was left to near the end of the works. This part entailed moving the moored boats out of the secure mooring area to an area beyond the new bridge and providing security. A security contractor was appointed and his cabins installed and a successful relocation of mooring was achieved. The only problem during the whole time of relocation occurred when the security cabin was raided and their kettle stolen! The relocation allowed stop planks to be inserted under the bridge and the end section of the canal pumped dry to allow relaying the tow path, installing service bollards and under water repairs to the canal wall. All the original cast iron edging was re-laid as had been done in other places where it still existed. Finally the security fencing to the extended mooring was erected and all the boats returned to their new moorings together with a number of new comers.
One of the requirements of the grant was that a piece of public art be commissioned and erected. The final design and site were eventually agreed and in 2000 the work was completed with the formal unveiling of the plaque, a canal trip for invited guests and a celebration dinner in the Warehouse. The whole works were completed on time and to budget – remarkable given the many unknown factors when work started. Every penny of the grant was spent, together with the promised match funding from the Trust.
Unfortunately we were all too trusting and within a few years the bronze plaque had been stolen. It then became the Trusts aim to erect a replacement plaque and in 2016 an aluminium replacement was commissioned from the original patterns which had been carefully stored. It was erected by the Tuesday Club within the confines of the Warehouse, under the metal fire escape, where it is thought to be more secure. The casting mould for the plaque has recently been positioned on the wall in one of the offices. Hence the pictures.
David Caunt, Chairman of Stourbridge Navigation Trust, February 2017
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