Life along Yorkshire’s rivers and canals

Volunteers work at Bingley Five Rise Locks on the Leeds Liverpool Canal

Volunteers work at Bingley Five Rise Locks on the Leeds Liverpool Canal - Credit: Joan Russell

Our rivers and canals are more important than ever as Yorkshire works towards a better quality of life Esther Leach reports

Volunteers work at Bingley Five Rise Locks on the Leeds Liverpool Canal

Volunteers work at Bingley Five Rise Locks on the Leeds Liverpool Canal - Credit: Joan Russell

There are few things more calming than cruising along Yorkshire’s rivers and canals but behind this peaceful ideal is a very active campaign to build a thriving tourism industry and bring to life forgotten stretches of waterways. ‘The wonderful waterways of Yorkshire and the North East are unrecognisable from what they once were. Today they are healthy, thriving green spaces that provide our towns, cities and countryside with green lungs, jobs and spaces to get away from it all,’ says Mark Penny, chair of the Canal & River Trust North East waterway partnership. ‘But we’ve only just scratched the surface of what they can be. Local people, businesses and councils now have a chance to play a meaningful role in the way their waterways are managed and improved for the future. I’m hoping we can inspire people to get involved in our work to really make the most of these fantastic assets.’

The waterway partnership has a 10-year strategy and a three-year action plan which outline how 200 years after they were built, the region’s waterways can contribute to areas of day-to-day life by attracting tourism, promoting healthy lifestyles and increasing education opportunities.

And one of the vital ways of realising this vision is by tapping into the passion local communities have for our rivers and canals. Mark Penny explained that they wanted local communities to become more actively involved in helping to maintain their local canal or river through youth projects and adoption schemes.

The partnership wants to work closely with councils, local businesses, boaters and other users to explore how canals and rivers can boost local economies and tourism.

Boats in Victoria Quays, Sheffield Photo Alamy

Boats in Victoria Quays, Sheffield Photo Alamy - Credit: Alamy

It wants to investigate how the region’s waterways can once more be used for moving freight and it is looking at ways of promoting the canals as a free out-door gym to benefit people’s health by improving towpaths and links between destinations. ‘We aim to build on the public passion for the nation’s canals which rescued them from dereliction and decline in the last century, through increased fundraising, volunteering and community involvement,’ added Mark Penny.

Sheffield in a very similar initiative of its own continues the renaissance of the city’s 150-mile network of rivers and streams but it also depends on a close working partnership with the public and local groups. The city’s action plan is to put its canal, rivers and streams at the heart of daily life and continue the recovery of wildlife habitats along its banks.

More local people are urged to become involved in looking after their local waterways. More festivals and events will take place on or beside the water and everyone is encouraged to explore the culture and history of their local area. It will help to attract people from other parts of the country, boosting tourism, supporting jobs and helping the local economy.

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The plan is to also make the most of Sheffield’s waterside landmarks, especially Victoria Quays, Sheffield’s canal basin, built 1816-1819, a former cargo port with a number of Grade II listed buildings. It’s an opportunity to celebrate the importance of the Quays to the city and its people; attracting more visitors, developing local businesses and hosting a series of events.

Tom Wild, director of the South Yorkshire Forest Partnership, and chair of the Sheffield Waterways Strategy Group, said: ‘Sheffield really is a “City of Rivers” – our waterways powered the growth of the city; they define its landscape and give great character to the place.

‘We have come a long way since the 1980s – moving from a situation where the city had turned its back on its waterways, through the dedicated efforts of volunteer groups like the Five Weirs Walk, who pioneered innovative work to realise the huge potential – to now, where our waterways really are a defining part of the city’s offer. Our rivers and canal really can be a unique selling point for Sheffield. I’d like to thank all the volunteers, staff and partner organisations for all their support in getting to this point.’

Julie Sharman, head of enterprise at the Canal & River Trust added: “Many people may not associate Sheffield with waterways but the city has an amazing 150 mile network of streams, rivers and canal. This network reaches out to all parts of the city and so has the potential to touch the lives of many thousands of people. This strategy is all about making that happen; getting more people involved with their local waterway, bringing more wildlife into the heart of our urban areas and using the waterways as a means of regenerating communities and boosting the local economy.’

Gary Verity, chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire, said Yorkshire had some of the finest and most remarkable waterways in the country. ‘They offer a gateway to some stunning scenery. Many of us have experienced them and many more should. The tranquillity of a canal cruise is matched only by the idyllic beauty they add to our cities, towns and villages. Our waterways are another compelling reason for visitors to explore places in Yorkshire all year round.’

Get involved

Find out how you can get involved with improving and enjoying our rivers and canals by contacting North East Waterways which is based at Fearns Wharf Neptune Street Leeds West Yorkshire LS9 8PB, Email enquiries

For more information about Sheffield Waterways Strategy Group go to

The Canal & River Trust is the guardian of 2,000 miles of historic waterways across England and Wales, caring for the nation’s third largest collection of listed structures, as well as museums, archives, and hundreds of important wildlife sites. We believe that living waterways transform places and enrich lives and our role is to make sure there is always a place on your doorstep where you can escape the pressures of everyday life, stretch your legs and simply feel closer to nature. / @CanalRiverTrust / @crtcomms

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