AFTER weeks of deliberating the recipients of this year’s Gannett Foundation UK awards have been announced.

Newsquest, which publishes the Oswestry Advertizer, has announced donations of more than £140,000 to 40 different community organisations across the length and breadth of the UK.

And included in that worthy list is the Montgomery Canal Restoration Appeal – and in particular the next phase of this lengthy campaign, to restore Schoolhouse Bridge, the last blockage in Shropshire on Long Lane between Crickheath and Pant.

We were inundated with applicants when we put out the call at the end of last year and it was a tough job creating our own shortlist which was then put to the trustees. They had the unenviable task of working through a stack of deserving applications submitted through Newsquest’s 200 news titles and magazines.

Last week provided an opportunity to present a cheque for £2,000 to the team leading the way with the restoration project which will cover the cost of building steps from the road to the canal.

Advertizer editor, Emily Lloyd, said: “It was an honour to present the Montgomery Canal Restoration team with a cheque from the Gannett Foundation UK.

“The trustees receive many worthy applications and I was thrilled to learn that one of our local groups had been selected this year.

“The work to restore the Montgomery Canal has been ongoing for many years, but the dedication shown by the team – which is made up of dedicated volunteers – over such a long period of time only demonstrates why they are so deserving.

“I look forward to seeing how the funding will benefit the next stage of the project – restoring Schoolhouse Bridge – and look forward to seeing narrowboats on that stretch of canal very soon.”

The current estimated cost of the Schoolhouse Bridge section of the project is around £300,000.

Michael Limbrey, chairman of the Montgomery Waterway Restoration Trust, which is leading the appeal, said: “This grant is so very important for us. The application was focused on some steps to give access to the towpath from the road.

“Access is terribly important – it’s not a site where we can manage it on both sides, it’s not a site where there’s access for wheelchairs or pushchairs, but there will be some down to the towpath.

“It also gives people an uninterrupted route without having to cross the road and if we can get the canal past two bigger jobs further down, we can take the pedestrians off the road.

“I think it’s terrific that Gannett have come up with this grant for us and I will be using it to promote what we do.

“A lot of our funding streams for the work on the bridge has been private donations. The Gannett Foundation is a national trust – we’ve had some other trusts supporting us but they’ve never really operated on a national level.”

As readers will be aware, the restoration work has achieved a number of milestones in recent years with water reaching Crickheath, while politicians in Wales have added their support to the project just a few weeks ago.

Michael continued: “We’ve been talking to MPs, local councils, we’ve also been talking to Shropshire Council. It’s a cross-border project and that’s becoming more and more important. We’re told they are very keen on cross-border projects.

“The ongoing fundraising starts with the bridge, but it’s always ongoing. It’s starts with the bridge and we still have more money to raise for that. We have started to have funds come in that are dedicated to other areas of the restoration project and we’re keen to look beyond.

“For the Schoolhouse Bridge we’ve said the bridge will cost £300,000, but we have extra costs that are still being resolved.

“There are still issues around Shropshire highways because of various highways. That’s terribly important because there’s lots of bridges being built on restorations but we will have a defined period where we will shut the road.

“We will say to out volunteer from around the country that we’ve got to do this in their defined period. That’s different from other restoration projects.”

Ken Jackson, project manager, added: “We’ve got two windows of opportunities this summer and next summer.

“We’ve got this summer to do all the ancillary and preparatory work, diversions into temporary roads, working with contractors, amenities etc.

“There isn’t really time to do that and do the main bridge construction this year, largely because of bureaucratic issues over utilities.

“It’s a major job in a bureaucratic sense, although it’s only one bridge, because of waterways diversion, highways, telephone lines, and so on. There’s plenty of legal work as well, so all that will be done this year.

“The actual bridge construction work itself will be about three months of work, which isn’t very long because when you bring in big earth-moving equipment, that’s when you see the project really move.

“That’s where the fundraising comes into its own because that’s serious money. It’s where we need to mobilise a serious gang of volunteers for those periods.

“The things we need for help in my mind, from a construction point, is to find volunteer labour and any individuals or companies who have surplus building materials to supply us with.

“We have to behave like a construction company and any company would know what it would take to set up the preliminary work.

“Hopefully there’s some big firms who are coming to the end of a contract that have surplus portacabins or fencing, and the like, then I would make a gentle appeal to ask people to think about how they can help this project.”

Looking ahead to the rest of the project, the team is already thinking about the work that will be needed in Llanymynech and beyond as the canal crosses into Wales – and not forgetting how they can incorporate the annual Montgomery Canal Triathlon in May which sees around 200 fundraisers walk, cycle and canoe their way along the canal from Welshpool to Welsh Frankton.

Michael continued: “There’s a couple of dry miles to the border at Llanymynech, and essentially it’s a question of re-lining the canal, but there’s a sewer in the way.

“We are talking to Severn Trent, but apart from that it’s about refashioning the channel, which is what the volunteers are doing anyway.

“There’s two minor road bridges. There’s one where you can see the bridge next to it by the play area in Llanymynech and then there’s one by the Vyrnwy. The last bridge knocked down on the canal in 1980.

“The first one is very easy to manage – Roger [Bravey, engineer] made some simple calculations and it involves slightly diverting the canal and diverting the road to go over the diverted canal, running down to the main road.

Roger said: “When we started out on Schoolhouse Bridge last spring, there were two things we looked at. It was splitting the bridge into simple tasks and the idea is transferable, so once we’ve done it, we can do the same for the Llanymynech bridge.

“The basic bridge could well be the same so you could get a cheaper second one. The one further down the Vyrnwy aqueduct – the one Michael said was demolished – which is a little bit more problematic because the canal is already at that embankment. Plus it’s in the Vyrnwy flood plain – that will be subject to another look at how we do that.”

Christine Palin, who has worked on the appeal, added: “One of the things we did in the triathlon last year and we’re going to do it again this year is highlight that the walkers are moving from England to Wales and back again. We’ll have a big banner.

“That also highlights to the 200-plus people that are going to one country from another, and shows there’s two countries involved when it comes to fundraising.”

Finally, the group says they are positive that the work they are carrying out will create a lasting legacy for future generations.

Ken continued: “It is fair to say this is one of the biggest projects a volunteer group has taken on. It can be done, without needing millions for major contractors and can be done by people who have got an interest in it. Or people who have worked in major projects and have now retired, we’ve got those skills to pass on.

“I’m interested for two reasons – one, I have a boat on the canal and an expanding network is something I’m really interested in, as a boater. But also, it’s an engineering project that I’m really interested.”

But the team also remembers the volunteers who are at the heart of what they do and have put in countless hours of manpower over the years.

Michael said: “One of the grants we’ve received has got training as its heart anyway. There will be some training on the project, and we’ve got several ideas as to what that might be.

“That will fit in very well. Our canal volunteers now, across the country, they’re not just chopping trees down or clearances – they’re driving big machines.

“Three years ago we took away an old railway embankment that had been put over a canal, and our volunteers were having a fight to use the diggers because they’re qualified to do so.”

Chris Bushell, who is part of the appeal team, said: “Waterway Recovery is part of it – they have open days and they say ‘come and have a go of it and if you like it, we’ll train you.’

“The kids love it – teenagers – and it really stimulates them. But you have to balance that out with getting the job done.

“Ultimately we want to attract more younger people as volunteers.”

If you would like to support the restoration appeal contact Michael Limbrey by emailing or calling 01691 654081.

And for more information about the Montgomery Canal Triathlon visit

How will it help?

The application received from the Montgomery Waterway Restoration Trust on behalf of the Restore the Montgomery Canal! appeal was specifically aimed at creating an access stairway in the reconstruction of Schoolhouse Bridge which would cost £2,000.

They explained how volunteers had already spent three years fundraising to rebuild Schoolhouse Bridge, which takes Long Lane between Crickheath and Pant, over the canal which was filled in more than 50 years ago.

They added: “The application is for the cost of materials for a flight of wooden steps to give access from the lane to the canal, an important but not essential feature of the project.

“Planning permission is expected shortly and the plan is to undertake some preliminary works over the coming months with the main reconstruction starting in spring 2020.”

As part of their application, trustees also had to explain how the project will benefit the community.

They added: “Reconstruction of Schoolhouse Bridge is part of the wider programme to open up the canal for walking and cycling as well as water-based activity such as boating and paddlesports, initially to the Welsh border, as set out in the Strategy published by the Montgomery Canal Partnership.

“Current restoration, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, will reopen the canal for navigation to Crickheath Basin, leaving just two miles of derelict canal in Shropshire, including Schoolhouse Bridge. The bridge reconstruction is being promoted by a consortium of local canal organisations led by the Montgomery Waterway Restoration Trust as Restore the Montgomery Canal! which is planning the next stages of restoration to follow the bridge reconstruction.

“Reopening the canal to the Welsh border will create a new visitor destination at Llanymynech which will link crossborder communities of Shropshire and Powys.”

They added: “The new bridge will help to unlock restoration in this rural area of Shropshire and with it help to regenerate the local economy. It will encourage people to explore the waterway and increase dwell time so that rural services and shops benefit from visitor spend. It will provide a quality, accessible environment which links into the local network of pathways and public rights of way connecting people with places.

“We do not know how many people would use the steps to gain access to or from the towpath but is considered desirable that the restoration should provide for as much access as possible to the towpath which is of course free of road traffic: experience shows that the restored lengths of the canal do attract more visitors using the canal and towpath.”

What is the Gannett Foudnation?

The Gannett Foundation is the charitable arm of Gannett Co, Inc, owner of Newsquest Media Group which publishes the Oswestry and Border Counties Advertizer.

The fund has paid out nearly £4 million in 10 years to good causes across the UK.

Applications are welcomed from a range of practical and creative projects including those that support neighbourhood improvement, economic development, youth development, education and cultural enrichment, care of the elderly or infirm, help for the disadvantaged or disabled, and environmental conservation.

Decisions by the trustees are made entirely on merit and the extent to which the trustees think an award will deliver a real and lasting practical benefit to the communities. Chairman of the trustees, Simon Westrop, said: “It really is a pleasure for us to find and help people who are giving up their own free time to help others in inventive ways that answer very specific local needs in the community, because this is where our newspapers are too and we want to support what is good about the places we live in and make them even better if we can.”

The Gannett Foundation UK, which makes the grants, retains a modest reserve to cater for urgent applications in cases of real need until the next round of awards are made in December 2020. Such ad hoc applications can be made through any local Newsquest Media Group editor.

Simon added: “If your application did not succeed this time, please don’t be discouraged. “Bear in mind that most of the successful applications are not necessarily big projects or headline- grabbers, but rather smaller ones that meet a particular need and instantly improve daily life. For instance, that new fridge or kettle the community centre has been wanting for ages. So think practically.

“Look out in your local Newsquest title, in the newspaper or on the website, for the announcement of the next annual round of Gannett Foundation UK grants sometime in the summer.”