Phil Sharpe has been campaigning with the IWA since the 1960s and has received the association’s Cyril Styring Trophy
Phil Sharpe on helping to save Marple Locks and on receiving the Cyril Styring Trophy
1 What first attracted you to the waterways?
A trip on the Bridgewater and Trent & Mersey canals with a group of friends from school in 1965.
2 Which is your favourite waterway?
I’m torn between the Trent & Mersey, at the bottom of my garden, and the Peak Forest where I misspent my youth helping to restore Marple Locks.
3 What do the waterways have to offer the country?
A remarkably complete 18th Century transport system with historic engineering on a human scale, and activity holidays with time to appreciate countryside and interesting towns.
4 When did you start working on the waterways?
I joined the Peak Forest Canal Society in 1967 and helped on working parties on the Ashton and Lower Peak Forest canals, but mostly at Marple. Travelling home on the bus splattered with mud seemed quite normal in those days.
5 How did you become involved with the IWA?
Also in 1967, having discovered canal boating and canal restoration, I just had to join the only national body campaigning to save and improve the canals. Manchester Branch meetings and their Norwester magazine, especially when edited by the combative John Greenway in the early 1970s, were a great inspiration to fight for what we believed in.
6 What voluntary roles have you performed?
I joined the IWA Lichfield Branch in 1988 and have since been Branch Chairman, Region Secretary and Chairman, a national Trustee and a member of Restoration Committee. I was also Vice-Chairman of Lichfield & Hatherton Canals Restoration Trust.
7 What have you been involved in recently?
I’ve been Planning Officer since 1993 and Website Editor for Lichfield Branch since 2010, which has kept me occupied since I retired.
8 How did it feel to be given the Cyril Styring Trophy?
Surprised, pleased and a great honour to be considered worthy of joining the list of legendary past winners such as David Hutchings and Graham Palmer, and such respected recent recipients as John Baylis, Harry Arnold and the late Tony Harrison.
9 What would you like to see happen to the waterways in your lifetime?
Much of what we were fighting for in the 60s and 70s has since been achieved, the waterways were saved from more closures, many have been restored, they are mostly now in the safe hands of charities, with reasonably secure funding, and well used and loved by the public. But there are still many restoration schemes struggling to find funding and I would like the Heritage Lottery Fund to remember that heritage is bricks and mortar and earthworks as much as social engagement, and to fully recognise the enormous potential for reinstating the early industrial revolution heritage of the waterways as a living museum and linear national park.
10 Which canal would you like to see restored next?
That would have to be the Lichfield Canal, which occupied so much of my life, but on a national scale the Cotswolds Canals will complete a major missing link in the canal system.
11 What is your proudest achievement?
Helping save Marple locks and the Cheshire Ring; fronting the Birmingham Northern Relief Road (now the M6 Toll) public enquiry which changed Government policy on making provision for canal restorations; or the recent success with altering the route of High Speed Rail ( HS2) route to avoid wrecking the environment of the Trent & Mersey Canal at Wood End near Fradley.
12 What did you want to be aged 12?
Probably an engine driver as I hadn’t yet discovered canals.
Have you ever fallen in?
A couple of times, once on the BCN Old Main Line in the days when it was heavily polluted with phosphorus and other chemicals; fortunately, I didn’t swallow any of it!
14 What are you reading at present?
Derek Pratt’s UrbanWaterways, more pictures than text; brilliant photography.
15 Who would be your ideal cruising companion?
That would have to be my friend Bill, with whom I’ve shared frequent boating experiences here and abroad for the past 50 years.
16 What’s the best time of day on the waterways?
I’m not a morning person so for me it’s the evening as the sun goes down and everything is bathed in a warm orange glow.
17 What do you think of people on the waterways?
With very few exceptions, the relaxed pace of the waterways seems to bring out the best in people, and chatting with strangers and helping them at locks seems entirely natural.
18 What do you in your spare time?
Think about decorating and gardening but always find something more interesting to do with the waterways.
19 Where would you go for a dream cruise?
A complete tour around the connected waterway system, taking in all the parts that have so far eluded me such as the Great Ouse and Yorkshire Ouse.
20 What superpower would you like to possess?
The ability to time travel back to the 1770s to see how the early engineers surveyed and built the waterways, and where they did and didn’t use puddle clay. But I’d like the superpower to extend to bringing me back again to more comfortable times, please.
Phil helped to restore Marple Locks