Leeds' heritage waterways (Aire & Calder Navigation and Leeds & Liverpool Canal) are still valued even though commercial traffic had almost ceased by the 1970s. The river, no longer an industrial resource, thoroughfare and drain, has been cleaned up. Sites and buildings that are part of this ‘blue space’ have been brought back into use and there is new appreciation of the channels and adjacent landscape as wildlife corridors, leisure assets and cultural resources.
Canal Connections is an example of a contemporary social enterprise engaging with this ‘Leeds legend’ in the twenty-first century. Canal Connections CIC is committed to raising the profile of Leeds canals heritage and their therapeutic potential as a driver of social change. It was borne out of chance in a conversation between Trevor Roberts and Alan Bolton, on a narrow-boat on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. Trevor was leading a boat project for a Bradford based charity and Alan was then Assistant Principal at an East Leeds Academy school. Both are former police officers. Trevor was exploring the educational and therapeutic benefits of canal boats - and the rest, as they say, is history.
We now use canal boats as a hook - an innovative engagement tool to introduce people not just to a fabulous built heritage but to the wider social and cultural aspects and the opportunities that heritage offers for leisure, personal development, enterprise and employment.