Helping to educate Coventry schoolchildren
Towards the end of 2005, Coventry Canal Society was approached by the Groundwork Trust to contribute towards an Educational Project. The Project’s aim was to raise the awareness of the Coventry Canal, its history and effect on the local environment
At first, our contribution seemed quite small; on paper at least! Society Member John McIntosh attended several meetings with the Groundwork Trust project co-ordinator, Judith Allnutt and representatives from Coventry City Council Education Resources Department, the Urban Rangers and British Waterways. Our initial contribution was mainly verbal as to “how it was”; this assisted Judith in planning her presentations.
Once the project was underway our involvement was quite simple: John was to go into the classroom on the afternoon of the second day (preferably accompanied by someone who had lived and worked on the boats) and talk to the children about how hard a life it was. Although it was a struggle to find someone who had worked the boats and was prepared to go and talk to the children, we were able on three occasions to re-create a space the size of a boatman’s cabin and place a fair representation of the average boat family on board. These were lively sessions which were a delight to take part in. The children were fascinated by all things about life on a working boat.
On the recruitment of a volunteer from the working boat fraternity we were struggling, until a chance remark in John’s own school led him to one of the cleaners Alice Powell. Alice was born on a boat in the Potteries and spent the first thirty-five years of her life in the working boat community. Alice accepted the invitation to take part with alacrity and her contributions were invaluable. The children who were lucky enough to be part of her presentations were enthralled by her tales of falling in, being given a drink of salt water by her mother to make her sick and other generalities of working boat life. Putting the baby to bed in a drawer, working very long hours, not going to school very much, sleeping wherever they could find a space, especially not having a computer or TV in their bedroom, were all unbelievable by today’s standards.
Our involvement took place at six schools between March and July Unfortunately the whole project was threatened with disaster when British Waterwaysannounced that they were only able to supply their restored working boat “Scorpio” for the first two dates, having originally promised to supply it for all dates. Scorpio had been used as the ‘backdrop’ to presentations in the canal basin from the re-enactment andinterpretation group “Delph Nine”.
Coventry Canal Society to the rescue! It was agreed that Panther should be taken down to the basin for 8-30 am each of the Tuesday mornings and be brought back to Wyken that evening. Several members were involved, one member, Steve Kingham took his own boat “Hebe” down on the last day so that the children could see what a boatman’s cabin was like.
The project was also threatened when Delph Nine could not attend one of the dates. Once again, Coventry Canal Society to the rescue! Remembering their work with the Coventry Family History Society, Jim and Yvonne Brannigan were bludgeoned intoservice to provide a similar insight into life as portrayed by Delph Nine. Working from a DVD of Delph Nine’s presentations, Jim and Yvonne did an immense amount of work even hiring costumes from the Criterion Theatre to present an accurate portrayal of life on the boats in 1947. Judith Allnutt’s response to their performance was that they were “outstanding”.
Whilst those Tuesdays were immensely enjoyable, they were certainly very hard work. John having to be up and about at 5am to get Panther ready to leave Wyken at 6am, to get to the canal basin by 8-30am. John was then on hand through the day. He collected Alice Powell and ensured she met her committmants at work, with support from the Wilsons or the Brannigans. He arrived back with Panther at Wyken well after 7pm. Extremely tiring days, but John insists that he wouldn’t have missed them for the world. On the last day of our input to the project, we received a visit from the Regional Director of Groundwork and the Regional Director of the Heritage Lottery Fund. Our Chairman Allen Wilson made himself available to meet these dignitaries and Tony Collins was in attendance to record the moment for the club newsletter. Allen’s meeting with the Heritage Lottery people will, I am sure, have immense benefits to us next year, when we celebrate Coventry Canal Society’s Golden Jubilee.
Judith Allnutt will be attending a future committee meeting to formally thank the Society and to present the new resource pack and pictorial evidence of our involvement in the form of display panels which can be used with our existing display units. Our thanks go to everyone in the Society who had input into this project – be it crewing Panther or helping to make sure that Panther was in a presentable state, advice given, transport arranged and all the help in putting the jigsaw together.
The “Above and Beyond” award should go to Yvonne Brannigan for turning up on the lock side at Hawkesbury at 6-30am with bacon sandwiches for Jim and John! She only did it once though….
As a society we feel that, we owe it to children to help educate them into their local history.
Coventry Canal Society.
September 2006Tags: education, youth