At last Saturday's AGM at Billinghurst Community Hall, chairman Sally Schupke described the past year as a "frustrating one" as lockdowns hampered restoration work and boat trip operations, but she praised members and directors for their unwavering support and enthusiasm even when times got tough. 

"For everyone, last year was very much a stop-start bumpy year particularly frustrating for our working party volunteers who had to stop meeting under the Government Covid regulations, and also the boat crews who saw the boats lying idle. But despite all these frustrations the Trust has done a lot better than most, thanks to the continuing support of our members and a number of legacies that made a huge difference to us in 2020.

"During the lockdowns we managed to keep going thanks to our staff, joined lately by our apprentice Adam Rayner. We were able to keep projects going and undertake maintenance tasks along the whole length of the canal from Shalford through to Pallingham.

"At the Tickner’s Road crossing, the site compound was established, access track prepared and ground works (in readiness for the footbridge that would be lifted into place in June 2021). Similarly in Shalford early preparations were made for the Information building to be installed in Hunt Park just off the A281, including completion of the piling by contractors and the required EPS (European Protected Species) licence obtained for the boardwalk and building construction scheduled for July 2021.

"We were all fascinated by the solution to the problems at Drungewick Lock and the repairs needed to stabilize the lock with the installation of Platipus ground anchors, installed by specialist contractors. One of our public trip boats, the “Zachariah Keppel” had a major refurbishment at a boatyard in Chertsey and its refit with new tables and chairs owes much to David Arnold and Ian James who worked so hard during the last year on boat maintenance.

"It was a huge decision to make some of our part-time staff at the Granary boat office in Loxwood redundant and done with a very heavy heart. Unfortunately with the Covid 19 pandemic and no boat trips running, this measure had to be taken.

"Our ability to hold fundraising events ground to a halt. Both the annual sponsored walk and boat trips had to be cancelled and when the boats could (and did) run again for a short time before the next lockdown, social distancing rules meant that only a fraction of the normal number of passengers could be accommodated.

"Throughout the lockdowns the board of directors continued to meet regularly by Zoom, and also the Restoration/Maintenance Group continued via video conference. It also gave us an opportunity to look at some of our policies and catch up with admin. In this connection a huge thank you to Geoff Boote for scanning so much of our archives. However, there is still a large gap in the admin support available to the Trust. It was with great sorry that we learnt of the death of Tony Tyrrell, our Hon. Secretary, and we have not been able to find a replacement yet so this is just one of the roles that remains vacant. We do have a very small pool of volunteers able to help behind the scenes (hero awards to John Tovell, our membership secretary, Tom Crawshaw, webmaster and Lyn Nash our canal centre manager) but we recognize that as the Trust grows, so too does our need for back office help.

"Early in 2020 we appointed Gayle Davis-Tyrrell and Max Byfield in an attempt to reduce ‘single points of failure’. Gayle comes with accounting experience, and Max has a background in IT. We also looked carefully at succession planning and at this Annual Meeting we welcome Bill Nicholson and Giles Eyre to the board.

"It was great to see the towpaths being used so much and a big increase in paddleboarders and canoeists – our licence income rose from £400 in 2019 to £2,000 in 2020.

"Traditionally the Trust’s directors don’t get thanked for their efforts during the year, but I would like to make an exception here and say how much I appreciate their support and help during a challenging year. And to extend this appreciation to all our members, volunteers in whatever capacity, our staff, donors, the support we receive from landowners and neighbours.

"It was a memorable year – and sadly not for the right reasons."

For a full report of the AGM, please see the coverage in the next issue of Wey-South.




Sally described the past year as memorable, but not for the right reasons (photo by Stephen Batey.)