As England’s third Covid-19 lockdown continues, people across Greater Manchester have spoken about how the 260-year-old Bridgewater Canal has improved their mental health during the pandemic, with paddle boarding proving to be a popular request for additional exercise activities on the waterway.
Out of 335 people surveyed this month and during December 2020, 284 people said the canal had positively impacted their mental health and wellbeing by an average of 84% and more than 40% said the canal made them feel either ‘relaxed’ or ‘happy’.
58% said that they visited the canal as a direct result of the 2020 lockdown and 80% of visits were for exercise with walking being the most popular choice followed by cycling then running.
Visitors to the canal after the March 2020 lockdown increased by 25% when compared to those who said they visited before the pandemic and 35% said they used the beauty spot at least once or twice a week during lockdowns.
One person said: ‘The canal has saved my mental health in times of absolute madness’ and another said: ‘the canal is a really important asset for the region, it made such a difference to me during lockdown. I was able to cycle to my sister’s in Lymm. That was invaluable to me.’
A further 48 people would also like to see permits for paddle boarding which is something owners of the Bridgewater Canal, Peel L&P are looking into.
The Bridgewater Canal, built by the Duke of Bridgewater, stretches 39 miles from Runcorn to Leigh and is thought to be England’s first canal. It was used to transport coal to the Duke’s mine at Worsley and today it is a popular leisure attraction and a home for canal boat residents.
New funding improvements
Owners Peel L&P have helped to maintain the canal for many years and in partnership with Salford City Council have recently secured programme entry from the Greater Manchester Mayor’s Challenge Fund for £4.8m to reinstate the raised towpaths to the Grade II* listed Barton Aqueduct and connect the Barton Swing Bridge.
This means people will be able to walk and cycle along a 20-mile stretch of the canal from Wigan through Salford and Manchester to Trafford. Following planning permission, this work is set to start by winter 2021.
Work has also started to improve walking and cycling routes between Walkden train station and Worsley/Boothstown and the Worsley Park Marriot Hotel & Country Club via RHS Garden Bridgewater which opens to the public in May 2021.
In 2019, Peel L&P worked with Wigan Council and TfGM to resurface towpaths and improve access points in Astley, an area known as the ‘Muddy Mile’ as part of Greater Manchester’s first Bee Network scheme. This follows work between Salford City Council and Peel L&P to resurface towpaths and improve access at both Barton and Boothstown using funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
The recent survey was carried out by Peel L&P to see how the public has been using the canal recently and to help improve it further it. Most people who responded live within 0-2 miles of the canal (77%) with the top two visitor age groups being 35 to 44-year-olds (29%) and 45 to 54-year-olds (27%).
Peter Parkinson, Director of the Bridgewater Canal, part of Peel L&P, said: “We’ve always known that the Bridgewater Canal is very special but hearing how people have relied on it for exercise and their own wellbeing during the pandemic shows us just how valuable a natural asset it is.
“We’ve had more walkers, runners and cyclists using the canal since the lockdowns and people have told us that they feel lucky to have such a place on their doorstep with 80% saying they feel a sense of pride in the waterway.
“Lots of people have told us that they’d like to paddle board on the canal and this is something we will review as well as the other comments about how we can further improve and protect the canal so it can continue to be enjoyed by so many people and generations to come.
“We’d like to thank everyone who took the time to give us their valuable feedback and when lockdown restrictions allow, we’re looking forward to restarting community events on the canal.” Helping to connect communities to nature in areas like the Bridgewater Canal is part of Peel L&P’s five-year sustainability plan.
Jo Holden, Peel L&P’s Sustainability Director added: “We all have a connection with nature; for many of us, being near water helps us to feel calm and improves our sense of health and wellbeing. The improvements we’re making to the canal are helping people to enjoy the waterside safely as well as providing sustainable transport routes for work and pleasure.
“It’s clear from this survey that people love the canal and the wildlife they can spot along the way and we’ll continue to run volunteering days and litter picks when we can to keep it well-maintained.”
The survey ran between 17 December 2020 and 11 January 2021.