I had great fun this morning with the Oxford Canal Heritage project. We started with an opening at the start of the canal on Hythe Bridge Street where I gave a short speech and thanked those involved for the work done so far in the project.
We moved on later to the Old Fire Station where we had coffee and lovely biscuits made by Restore. Tony Joyce gave a short speech as chair of the Civic Society, as did I.
Some might think that canals are really only relevant to the past but this could not really be further from the truth – canals are often vibrant arteries of life in our Cities and Oxford’s is certainly no exception.
Not only is Oxford canal a green lung and recreation space for many of Oxford’s people and visitors it also contributes to the economy of our City in so many other important ways. Transport is easy along the canal towpath and along the canal itself for water-borne vessels. People use the canal for walking, jogging, cycling, angling, boating and many other pursuits. Many enjoy a simple wander along its towpath in this green and pleasant part of Oxford absorbed by the myriad fascinating and wonderful sights and sounds along its banks.
You’ll probably be aware of how acutely short of housing Oxford is. Of course the canal helps here too as there are many boats moored that are actually the homes of Oxford people who are contributing greatly to our City in all sorts of ways. I think this is a great way to live and be housed and will certainly do all I can to make sure the Council supports canal-dwellers as well as it possibly can.
It is good that plans to redevelop the Jericho Boatyard are progressing and I think that will be very important in preserving the traditional Oxford Boating community as immortalised in booked such local author Phillip Pullman’s Northern Lights. There are many other great books about Oxford Canal such as “A towpath walk in Oxford” by Mark Davies and Catherine Robinson.
Canals are often not as well-known as rivers in Cities, and are seen as poorer second cousins. The Thames, or Isis has certainly been making itself known recently with its flooding earlier in the year but today is about taking some of the limelight for the canal. I’m so pleased that the Canal Heritage project has done, and is doing, so much good work to challenge that relative obscurity and bring the canal back into the public eye, back up the agenda of so many people and organisations.
It’s good to hear the vision of the project in ensuring that the canal becomes a distinctive and well-known destination for locals, students and tourists and visitors. I think opportunities to learn about the canal’s industrial heritage while enjoying its natural environment will be very attractive to all who live in, study in, work in or just visit our City. I am delighted that future visitors will be able to find this gem more easily thanks to a dedicated gateway, improved signage and accessible information presented in a range of formats from information pillars to audio trails. This is great work!
Oxford is a City that is good at community involvement so I am pleased to see that this is also an aim of this work. Knowledge, skills and interests of many local communities from Wolvercote to Jericho have been invaluable in getting it this far. I am grateful to all their input and that from the boating community, neighbourhood forums, community associations, schools, faith groups, businesses and shops. It’s a great team effort!
If you haven’t had a look at it yet I recommend the excellent website that has been set up about this project. It has a wealth of resources including maps and a great audio guide. See www.oxfordcanalheritage.org