Like most good plans, the seed of the idea had been conceived several years previously when Alison and Louise had a winter mooring at the former Sampson Rd Depot at Camp Hill in Birmingham: an existing visitor and workboat basin with a derelict yard attached.
At the time they considered approaching the then British Waterways for a permanent mooring, but as is the way, other plans got in the way and for the next few years the idea was shelved; that is until the opportunity of a mooring at Minerva Works in Digbeth, Birmingham arose.
Minerva Works is part of the Warwick Bar area of ‘Slow Regeneration’, a site owned by the now Canal and River Trust (CRT) in partnership through the development company ISIS. As part of the overall creative and innovative scene of Digbeth, Minerva Works has flourished as a mixed use Arts, Manufacturing and Retail site, playing host to Music, Markets, Film Festivals and as a hub for the regular ‘Digbeth First Friday’ events.
Having secured the mooring at Minerva Works, Alison and Louise used their volunteer experience with CRT to create the Friends of Warwick Bar canal adoption scheme, to regenerate the run down and underused section of the canal and integrate it into the overall positive atmosphere of Digbeth. The catalyst for ‘The Plan’ came in the form of the sale of the Warwick Bar Site. It had been the intention to develop gardens and a volunteering hub at Minerva Works to further integrate the canal with the land based community, however the sale of the site cast the feasibility of this into doubt. After talking the prospects for the future through with our friends Jennie and Paul Howland, the conversation turned into developing a mooring, volunteer and community garden and Maker Space site independently as a boater led project, utilising our joint experience of boating, volunteering and youth work.
This is where Sampson Rd Depot once again came to mind. After some groundwork research, and not seeing any immediate development plans for the site or the area, as a group we developed an outline proposal to discuss with CRT. It was in a perfect location; just outside of the Digbeth area, but close enough to become an ‘outpost’; it had offline moorings with the possibility of installing pontoons; it had services on site; the canal in this area was still underused by the local residents; it also had a roadside building that we would be able to apply for funding to develop into a meeting centre.
Meetings were arranged, and our outline Business Plan presented to the CRT Head of Boating Mike Grimes. As it turned out, CRT had been looking at ways of developing boater led moorings, and finding a use for derelict or underused canalside sites. It was all in all a very positive response. The idea was discussed with he Waterways Manager and presented to the Waterways Partnership, bit of whom supported our plan. Then we hit a snag.
Unfortunately Birmingham is currently undergoing lots of regeneration, spurred on by the prospect of HS2, and CRT own very little canalside property in the Centre. Although we were correct that there were no planning applications for the Sampson Rd site, as it turned out the Property Department of CRT were inclined to hold onto this site as there was medium to long term prospects for its development. All in all this meant that we would only be able to secure a 5 year lease on the site, which in our view was not long enough to justify the commitment it was going to entail, and it was also severely effect the possibility of gaining Lottery Funding to develop the site as it requires a minimum of 10 years on a lease.
Admittedly we were disappointed, as several months had gone by, and we had garnered a lot of support from within CRT; but to be fair to the Head of Property Stuart Mills he kept Sampson Rd on the table for us, but arranged for us to meet with the Waterways Manager and a member of the Property team to look at other potential sites within the West Midlands; and as it turns out, this was a very positive turn of events, and how we came about the change of direction towards Wolverhampton.