Whilst branded as ‘Restoration Conference’ the conference theme was strongly about the professionalism and organisational capacity of Canal Groups to achieve restoration, overwhelmingly focusing on the ‘how’ over the ‘what’. Another key ‘how’ aspect, promoted throughout the day, was the thoughtfully co-ordinated ‘Restoration Hub’ centralising restoration know how and making it easily accessible.
Jonathan Till spoke brilliantly about the need for Canal Societies to move from enthusiast organisations to credible delivery partners. Alicen Stenner mirrored his message by emphasising the marketing positioning of a restoration brand – moving away from the promotion of physical works (exciting to a limited engineering audience) towards the promotion of the bigger community values restoration can achieve.
I’ve always valued the idea of looking outwards for inspiration and was impressed with the inclusion of Nick Ralls (Chief Executive of Severn Railway) who shared his volunteer successes from an alternative heritage perspective. His predominant message was the pioneering spirit of volunteers and how to carefully harness, celebrate and manage enthusiasm to ensure continuous commitment and success. I really liked his ideas of creating defined reward events, building in opportunities to demonstrate volunteer pride and finding creative ways to make the ‘business as usual’ tasks inspirational. The importance and promotion of a volunteer core throughout the executive was also impressive and demonstrated a thorough understanding of actively valuing a volunteer culture within a successful business.
I also enjoyed Aimee Henderson’s heritage seminar, neatly summarising conservation as the ‘Controlled Management of Change’ again prompting parallels between the conservation of Canal Societies via organisational and marketing sea changes to achieve restoration.
With a head full of renewed inspiration I returned to Kendal (2nd class – the bargain deals are limited!) catching glimpses of the Northern Reaches idly displaying its restoration challenge. I sat happy in the knowledge that LCRP have chosen to prioritise the creation of a true community asset, the Towpath Trail, to kick start a community led push for full restoration and that we have the capacity and drive to take on board all that was promoted at the ‘restoration’ conference today.