DUDLEY CANAL AND TUNNEL TRUST

ANNUAL REVIEW

2018

Image of the portal decorated with poppies.

COMPANY INFORMATION

 

DUDLEY CANAL AND TUNNEL TRUST

Incorporated 18th September 2015

Registered Company Number – 09784120

Charity Number – 1166460

DUDLEY CANAL AND TUNNEL TRUST ENTERPRISE LIMITED 

Incorporated 18th September 2015

Registered Company Number – 09784120

DUDLEY CANAL TRUST

Incorporated 17th January 1965.

Charity Number – 240545

DUDLEY CANAL TRUST (TRIPS) LIMITED

Incorporated 17th June 1983.

Charity Number – 514219

Head Office

501 Birmingham New Road

Dudley

West Midlands

DY1 4SB

0121 557 6265

 

www.dudleycanaltrust.org.uk

Photos scattered across a desk

CONTENTS

Governance                                                                                                             

Message from Chairman                                                                                     

Message from Chief Executive                                                                          

Mission & Aspirations                                                                                          

2017 Recap                                                                                                             

Strategic                                                                                                                  

Enterprise                                                                                                                

            Gift Shop

            Catering

Heritage Activities                                                                                                

             Education

             Volunteering

             Engagement

Events                                                                                                                    

Operations                                                                                                              

            Boat Trips

            Health & Safety

           Maintenance

           Staffing

Finance                                                                                                                     

Working Group                                                                                                      

          Historic Boats

          Working Parties                                                                                        

          Membership

          Archives

Governance

Dudley Canal and Tunnel Trust               

Alan Garnell - President                                                

Jeff Luesley - Chairman                                           

Alan Hazeldine - Finance                                           

Paul Smith - Health & Safety                                    

Richard Jones - Membership                                      

Kate Bennett - Volunteering

David Caunt

Richard Langford

Kerry Ingram - Board Secretary

Dudley Canal and Tunnel Trust Enterprise

Alan Hazeldine - Finance     

Judith Luesley               

Traci Dix-Williams     

Diane Griffin 

Matthew Dix-Williams                 

Dudley Canals Trust (Trips) Ltd  

Jeff Luesley

Alan Hazeldine

Dudley Canal Trust         

Peter Dodds    

Alan Garnell

Richard Jones     

Alan Hazeldine

 

Working Group            

John Rudge                                          

Pauline Farnell                                       

Alan Hazeldine               

Mike Skidmore          

Hilary Skidmore

Chris Round

Bob Dale


Governance and its leadership role in the charitable sector has never been under more scrutiny than at this moment!


It is easy to see charities having a difficult time and being under review for how they operate. Having a board that is representative of the community they serve and who possess the skills and expertise needed to attain their goals is key. 

CHAIRMAN'S REPORT

Well it has been yet another very busy and exciting year for the Trust and this has happened against a continuing background of uncertainty in the country – one can only imagine what life for the team would have been should we have been in a boom period!

A very pleasing aspect of our performance is the efficient, creative and hardworking team we now have, built up by our Chief Executive, Traci Dix-Williams. The Trust is now very much on the map, not only in the Black Country, but also in the West Midlands – we have a voice and it is listened to.

In support of my comments above, let me list just some of the VIP visitors we have had in 2018 (I stress in no particular order!):- Doreen Tipton; Graham Usher – Bishop of Dudley; Ian Austin; The Mayor of Dudley; The Leader and Chief Executive of Dudley Metropolitan Council; The West Midlands mayor - Andy Street; Directors of Wieliczka Salt Mine in Poland; 15 Heritage Leaders of the Taiwan Cultural Bureau Delegation; Alex Lester & Dicky Dodds – Radio Broadcasters; Michael Darby – last surviving member of the Darby Family; Professor Mike Robinson – Birmingham University; Heads of Faculty – Wolverhampton University and these are just some of our interesting visitors!

Whilst this does not necessarily immediately put ‘bottoms on seats’, it means we can make a greater impact when regional decisions are being taken that can affect our future. This work will also help in any future fund-raising requirements that we have, thus enabling us to achieve our strategic aims.

So far, my report has been relatively up-beat, but, as I write this, Brexit is still in the air, making the future still very uncertain. To work with and try to prepare for further uncertainty, our 2018 activities and our plans for 2019 and beyond, of necessity, have been and are prudent. We have a strong base business with our trips, restaurant and corporate event facilities and, as I said above, are weathering current uncertainty well and have no reason to believe that this cannot continue. The word ‘staycation’ is cropping up again and, frankly, this can only help us and our neighbours on Castle Hill.

 96% of our customer reviews scored us as very good or excellent in 2018

Looking back at the year in a little more detail, the trips both into the tunnel/mines and open water continue to be very popular and to these we launched our newly up-graded and refurbished dining boat ‘Vic Smallshire’ in the second half of the year and she already has been heavily booked both for ‘Black Country Picnic’ open water trips and private hire. The Gongoozler continues to build up its own customer base and we are looking to increase evening events in 2019. A complete review of our shop was completed in the latter part of the year and the outcome seems popular with customers. Corporate functions continue to grow with several customers combining work with pleasure with a trip on our boats. Whilst we are pleased with what we have achieved in our non-boating areas, we have the capacity to do more and early in the new year will be employing a Commercial Manager to ensure that this happens.

We continue to take our historic boats, Sagitta and Bittel to various events, thus enabling the public to see first-hand these superb examples of boats of a bygone era and, at the same time promoting our work and trips. I would add that all the movements of these boats, both to and from and at the events are carried out by a hard-working band of volunteers. Talking of volunteers, without them a number of the Trust’s key activities would just not happen examples are: archiving (our large and well indexed archives are the envy of many organisations); work parties; Chit Chat Club (very popular indeed); towpath and meet and greet; Tunnel Tots (future customers) etc – this list is by no means exhaustive, but just gives examples of the importance of volunteers to our charity. I am proud to add to this point this important work was recognised recently when a number of our volunteers won awards at two external events.

So, we are now involved in another exciting new year of growth, where there are uncertainties, but there also are great opportunities and we fully intend to capitalise on these. Our strategic plan, drawn up in 2018, will give our team the guidance as to where to target their energies this year, yet leave them sufficient freedom to tackle uncertainties and opportunities, as and when they arise.

J. Luesley - Chairman

 

MESSAGE FROM THE CHIEF EXECUTIVE

I have to say 2017 and 2018 have gone by in a flash for me. As a new Chief Executive, it was daunting coming into what for me was a new business, especially one that was going through such a period of change and growth in both its outlook and its offer. 

As with all businesses we can look back at the year and agree there were somethings we wish we had done better, there were certainly some things we wish had gone more in our favour and there is lots that went really well for us and we need to make sure we celebrate these as much as we learn from the less successful ventures.

The Dudley Canal and Tunnel Trust Team have been fantastic, they have had to get to grips with a new venue, new departments and offers, new team members, a new Chief Executive and the changing expectations of today’s visitors and this is just the start of our future operations. 

There is no denying Dudley Canal and Tunnel Trust is a complicated business and organisation to operate but it also so rewarding. Engaging our visitors with the canals, tunnels, caverns, history and stories of the area help us in our mission to preserve and make it available for future generations. 

Just as the Trust’s founders wanted when they began to dig out the tunnels and open them back up – so we want to do more also. Our future is full of growing visitor numbers, new boats, new tunnels being opened, new exhibitions, new routes of engagement and new and flourishing partnerships.

I am conscious in my small contribution here I unashamedly mention the word “new” a lot.  I am able to do this because of the great legacy our founders left for us and the fighting spirit and ethos which has been instilled in us. At no stage in our fifty plus years of operation have we ever rested on our laurels or stayed static or irrelevant.  We recognise the value of our offer and what an impact it has on all our visitors. As our new motto states, we are here because everyone deserves to hear Dudley Tunnel and its stories.

Traci Dix-Williams – Chief Executive

Groups shot of DCTT staff

MISSION & ASPIRATIONS

The objects of the charity are -

The advancement of education for the public benefit, in particular, but not exclusively, on the history, social history, heritage, economy, geology, geography, archaeology, architecture and other features of the Dudley canal tunnels, inland waterways, mines and its working boats;

The protection, preservation, conservation, maintenance, repair, improvement and development, to a navigable standard, of the Dudley canal tunnels, inland waterways, mines and its working boats for the use and benefit of the public, and in particular, but not exclusively, by providing educational, historical and recreational facilities;

PEOPLE

Strategic Aim 1 – Put our visitors at the heart of everything we do.

Strategic Aim 2 – Invest in our greatest assets, our team.

Strategic Aim 3 – Be a vibrant part of the community.

 

OPERATIONAL CONFIDENCE & EFFICIENCY

Strategic Aim 4 – Be resilient, creative and adaptable.

Strategic Aim 5 – Operate to the safest levels and be an exemplar for the underground experience.

Strategic Aim 6 – Be forward looking and thinking and embrace opportunity and new ways of working.

 

SUSTAINABILITY

Strategic Aim 7 – Safeguard and engage with the unique environment we care for.

Strategic Aim 8 – Raise our profile and identity.

Strategic Aim 9 – Be financially aware and protect our assets and use our resources well.

 

2017 RECAP

Though this is the first annual review and is for 2018 we would like to recap on the many activities which took place in 2017 as it was a pivotal year for the trust. In terms of governance we Dr Ian Thompson, Derek Gittings and Mike Duley retire from the board and Paul Smith join it. We would like to take this opportunity to thank them for all the support and hard work they have given the Trust over the years.

Sadly, we saw the retirement of our CEO Nick Morris who led us through the redevelopment project and delivered a game changing offer for the Trust in terms of the new Portal Building. Nick was replaced by Traci Dix-Williams who joined us at the start of our season and had to hit the ground running. Traci brought with her extensive knowledge of the heritage attraction sector and over 30-years’ experience managing historic collections and running heritage attractions.

We were able to make the Volunteer Coordinator and Heritage Activities Assistant posts permanent (they had previously been paid for by the grant) and we took over the running of the Gongoozler Restaurant and recruited Sharon Lunn as our new Catering Manager. Sharon did an amazing job getting the restaurant on track and building up a very appreciative client base.

Anyone who has seen Sagitta and Bittel our Historic Boats will see how amazing they look after having new paint jobs. They are a real point of interest at all the shows they attend and are great ambassadors for the Trust and the work it does.

Partnerships were developed with the University of Birmingham’s Heritage and World Heritage Sites Faculty as well as the Arts School from the University of Wolverhampton.  A delegate of Directors from the Royal Salt Mines in Poland and 30 Taiwanese Cultural Directors came to seek inspiration and information from the Trust in terms of how we combine the heritage side with the necessity of making income for continued sustainability.

More locally, Andy Street – Mayor of Birmingham used Dudley Canal and Tunnel Trust as a shining example of how to create a successful canal-based offer and Mayors, Council Leaders and a number of politicians all made their way to our site to take a trip and talk to us about our plans for the future. We worked with the BBC and hosted the ridiculously early breakfast show to support the launch of the Black Country Festival, a local contestant from the Voice filmed footage alongside our building  This is all evidence of the works we did to raise our profile and get more awareness out in the local, regional and as you have seen with the Polish and Taiwanese Visitors, worldwide sector of how important our Tunnels, Caverns and Canals are. 

2017 saw us launch our very popular Cavern Explorers Club which targets children to get them to engage now with all we offer but also to nurture them as our future visitors and advocates. We also developed and offered a range of events to get potential new audiences through our doors – we accept not everyone may be a canal enthusiast, but we hope to convert them to be! The latter end of the year saw a very successful Family Friendly Halloween offer – it was important we got this right as our adult Halloween event in previous years had not been as successful and well received as we would have liked. Our Santa trips were all set to be one of the best years we had had but excessive snow in December and latterly in January and March meant many trips had to be cancelled and refunded. This put enormous stress on the staff to organise and manage but we set a policy and procedure that saw us keep the loyalty and goodwill of most of the customers.

STRATEGIC

Work began on introducing our Two-Year Business Plan and Ten-Year Strategic Plan in 2018. Our Strategic Plan will see us be ready to develop our offer as well as tie into a number of very important anniversaries and milestones which will further help promote the Trust. From this a range of Key Performance Indicators have been developed all aimed at ensuring our priorities of business development and visitor engagement are recognised by all.

It’s disappointing to report that the merger of our two companies Dudley Canal Tunnel Trust (Trips) and Dudley Canal Tunnel Trust was not completed in 2018 as we had planned. That said we continued to     operate as if it had and Enterprise our trading arm was set up to oversee the development of our commercial activities, the shop, café and some of the events.

Dudley Canal and Tunnel Trust is represented on a number of groups and association.

The Castle Hill Strategic Partnership which sees the CEO’s of the Dudley attraction and the Head of Tourism for the council working together to promote leisure and tourism in the area. 

The Association for Independent Museums (Aim) Steering Group Museum and attraction leaders working together on shared challenges for operations and future developments.

The Dudley Leaders Group council leaders, business and attraction leaders, heads of service and emergency services all share insights to deliver the borough aims.

The Castle Hill Attractions Group heads of marketing for all attractions and the council look to develop joint offers and promotions, map visitor journeys and experiences and share expertise on marketing and promotion.

The Lapal Tunnel Advisory Board Providing support and guidance.

Dudley Local Cultural Education Partnerships championing the best of cultural education for the youth of Dudley borough.

Age Friendly Museum Network West Midlands sharing and promoting                   beneficial work in the region. The network believes museums and older people enrich each other and that aging is a shared experience.

Cultural Health and Wellbeing Alliance bringing together cultural and wellbeing organisations to promote and share new ways of working.

DCTT won the prestigious VAQAS Best Told Story Award for 2016, 2017 and 2018. This was presented to the Trust after a thorough mystery visit and interview and is awarded through VisitEngland, the official Tourist Board for England.  We received a lot of positive press for this, especially when we won it for the third year running!

A range of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) were developed for the Trust to set priorities for the team and to monitor performance.  On the whole we performed well against these, in many cases achieving more than anticipated especially for awards, customer satisfaction, volunteer hours, new events and sales targets for some of our boat trips.  Areas where we needed to develop further were education bookings, reaching capacity on our cavern trips and income generated through the Gongoozler. 

Work continued in 2018 on agreeing the new maintenance agreement with Canal and River Trust and the Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council. We also started work on updating the Circulatory Route Licence with the Council. With Enterprise being the commercial subsidiary of the Trust, we also began drafting a lease for the Gongoozler and shop.  The Black Country Museum Access Agreement was completed in 2017 and we agreed to provide specialist advice and insight to the Zoo as they look to open up their “Stores Cavern”.

Though our redevelopment project is now over three years old we still have the responsibility on reporting on performance so in 2017 we completed our HLF final review which was very successful. We also continued to do annual returns to ENTRUST regarding the Biffa Gallery and welcomed many of our donors back to site to see how well the project was working.

ENTERPRISE

With the two trusts merging under Dudley Canal and Tunnel Trust going forward Enterprise our wholly owned trading division will oversee and lend support to the management team to develop all of its income generating activities to support us to be a continued sustainable business.

By the end of 2018 the decision was made to bring in a new post of Commercial Manager to bring a focus and improved potential to develop our trading activities as this is an area where the Trust still has so much scope to grow. The post holder will manage the Shop and Tickets, Corporate Events and some of the larger events such as Halloween and Christmas and they will work closely with the Catering Manger to develop our hospitality offer as well as evening opening of the Gongoozler Restaurant for meals and entertainment.  

 GIFT SHOP

2018 was a good trading year for the shop and a tentative retail strategy was developed which looked at all aspects of seasonal range planning, visitor mapping and visual merchandising – this is now due for review in 2019.

Small interventions were made during 2018 which has had a positive impact on the environment and trading of the shop. The layout was changed, and more was done with visual merchandising and creating more bespoke products. The shop is one of the areas where with some investment we know we can grow the business and make the shop more of a destination in its own right as well as being a great service offer for our visitors.

view across the gift shop

CATERING

With the decision to bring the Gongoozler in-house in 2017 and run it ourselves, we set about recruiting a Catering Manager who knew the clientele we would be targeting and the menu choices and price levels they would be happy with.  We always knew the first couple of years would be challenging but the staff really stepped up to the mark, working very long hours every day and every week to develop a catering offer that has seen a real upturn in footfall. Introducing breakfasts and Sunday Lunches has really started to develop the offer in the way we want it to go.

Though the Gongoozler traded well we have had a number of large expenses incurred through purchasing new equipment and repairs in the kitchen, so we really need to look to bring costs down and maximise profitability. 

Happily, our corporate catering and function room use grew over the year and we were     really pleased to be able to launch our Dining Cruises with the completion of our new boat “Vic Smallshire.” Vic took a range of guests out enjoying Black Country Picnics, Fish and Chip Suppers and Gin Tasting, we feel we now have a model that works well and we can continue to develop this.

Halloween and Christmas are our large events and 2018 saw record numbers for both with Santa Boats being sold out by the middle of November. There is still a lot we can do with these events – we introduced a family ticket which was really well received by our audience as well as extending the number of boats we could run. On the whole customer feedback for both events was excellent.

We also developed a Business Club Membership Scheme to encourage local business to buy a year long pass which they can use to treat their workers to days out. The Group Booking offers were refreshed and we offered incentives for coach companies and organisers. We now need to find a more effective way of “selling” these offers and maintaining contact with the clients they generate.

Despite a great start when we brought catering back in house it was apparent in 2018 that we needed to revisit the Gongoozler in terms of its menu offer and pricing. We wanted the café to offer great value but we needed to simplify its operations and be mindful of who our key service users were.  Some changes were made prior to the Christmas season with the rest planned for 2019.

 

HERITAGE ACTIVITIES

EDUCATION

2018 was a year full of new projects and programmes for the Learning & Engagement Team.

In the spring, the fruits of over a year’s planning were finally borne into the makeover of the Portal’s foyer space, from an empty area lovingly referred to as a doctor’s waiting room to an exciting new addition to our engagement offer; Tunnel Treasures. This space combines objects from DCTT’s own collection with loans, images and text in a series of display cases to tell stories, and the programme of exhibitions rotates through the year. Our staff suggested themes and ideas for the exhibition programme, which we turned into six different exhibitions in total in 2018, covering topics from local customs to the waterways, industry to food and drink. The closing exhibition of the year about seasonal sweets was a particular favourite!

We’ve been fortunate to attract a number of grants for exciting new projects in 2018, most notably for two projects that pushed the boundaries of our digital knowledge. £1000 from Art Fund in March gave us our first opportunity to discover the possibilities of virtual reality technology with our Hidden Histories project, which saw us out and about in the community telling the story of our mines’ contribution to the history of the science of geology.                      A little later in the year another £3000 from Arts Connect allowed us to develop our know-how into 360 video, working with local teenagers and a digital technology expert to create our first 360 film, set in Sagitta’s cabin in years gone by. We look forward to more opportunities to expand our digital horizons in 2019!

Our favourite project of 2018 without a doubt has to be the Poppy Portal. Of all the programmes we’ve developed, nothing has been more moving or humbling than the sight of over 250 poppies covering the Portal entrance, each handmade from wool, plastic bottles, foam, old table cloths and all manner of other ephemera.

Another 250 poppies inside the Portal building foyer took over the space and together made an exceptionally beautiful and fitting tribute for the centenary of the end of the First World War. We’re really grateful to all the visitors, volunteers and staff who took time to contribute to the two installations.

volunteer using VR hidden Histories

VOLUNTEERING

We certainly had an exciting and award-winning year for our volunteers.

We were pleased to welcome back the National Citizenship Service’s Challenge, who brought young people to take part in a series of volunteering days with us to learn about the work we do, raise funds for us and then create a virtual reality experience telling our story which they took onto the streets of West Bromwich to spread the word about us. We look forward to welcoming them back again in 2019.

Another new partnership for 2018 was with the Meadows School, a local school for students with additional needs. We have been fortunate to have their support on our allotment project, with their students learning about planting and growing fruit and vegetables, and looking after the allotment space throughout the year alongside our gardening volunteer team. They also created a striking new member of the team - a scarecrow for the allotment!

We were also pleased to continue our partnership with Walsall College, whose students have provided extra family activities for our Halloween and Christmas events since 2014.

Of course, regular work like canal clearances and representing DCTT at boating festivals and other outreach events continued to be a core part of our volunteers’ duties, and we were pleased to see the usual crowd along with some new faces take on these tasks, as well as demonstrating our historic boats to the public at our new-for-2018 historic boat open afternoons.

We were delighted to have many of our volunteers be recognised for their outstanding contributions at various external awards events. In total, representatives from DCTT took home wins for three different awards, as well as two more highly commended and two nominations in awards including the Dudley CVS Awards, Sandwell Volunteer Awards and the Forging a Future for All Awards. We are grateful for every hour that our volunteers give us, and it was wonderful to see external recognition for their tireless efforts.

We also celebrated the achievements of our volunteers in-house in 2018, with DCTT’s first ever Volunteer Awards. The evening gave us the chance to show extra gratitude for the work our volunteers do for us, with staff having the opportunity to submit votes for volunteers in all teams that they felt deserved an extra thank you.

ENGAGEMENT

2018 was a year of exciting new projects and programmes, but also the continuation and growth of many of our existing offers.

Our team welcomed over two and a half thousand school children to us for a boat trip and a workshop on a range of topics from Sedimentary Rocks & Fossils to Life on a Working Boat. We also saw the first bookings for new sessions about Wonderful Water, as well as plenty of interest in Black Country Canals & Industry. In the autumn we developed new activity trails for schools to explore the exhibition galleries with in response to school feedback, which have been well received.

The school holidays always bring the sound of families throughout the building and 2018 was no different. We welcomed record numbers of children to our holiday Little Skipper sessions, where families take a 45-minute boat trip followed by an hour of things to make and do. Many a tissue paper flower, handprint duck and bubble picture was made! We were also pleased to see so many new and returning faces to our under 7's Tunnel Teds day, all with teddies in tow of course! We also launched evening events in 2018, starting with the very popular Harry Potter Book Night and followed with our Explorasaurus Evening and Pirates & Mermaids Night. These evening events featured trails, craft activities and games for families to enjoy together.

We were delighted to welcome even more young people to Cavern Explorers this year. Cavern Explorers is our loyalty scheme for families, offering much-coveted badges for every event they attend as well as a range of exclusive opportunities and free challenges on selected weekends during the year. We estimate having over 800 Cavern Explorers in our Directory by the end of 2018 and look forward to welcoming many more into the fold in 2019.

800+ Cavern Explorers Signed Up!

 Our Waterside Gallery has been full all year with a wide range of work by local amateur and professional artists and groups. The frequently changing programme features photographs, drawings, paintings and lots more and has been great to see the mix of work on offer. A particular favourite of staff is always the Open Exhibition in the summer, which gives new and established artists alike an opportunity to exhibit their work in this popular space.

 

EVENTS

The year saw the Trust bring in a number of new events to extend the trading season and encourage new and reluctant audiences to the site and to get a better idea of what we offer. With this in mind we added a second leaflet” Great Days Out” which showcased all the site had to offer but focused on the calendar of events and engagement activities available for everyone to enjoy. 

We developed an Events Strategy which looks at three strands and expected outcomes for events,

  • Strand one is that the activity helps us tell more of the story of Dudley Canal and Tunnel Trust, the story of the people of the area, the mines and tunnels, canals and working life. This helps encourage out visitors become regular and loyal visitors as there is always something new and fresh to see and do.
  • Strand two helps us target non-audiences and get them to site to see what we have and encourage them to take pour boat trips. We tie into popular themes to do this so though they may not be directly related to our ethos they are within our infrastructure.
  • Strand three are our commercial events which help bring in vital income. These tend to be based around the larger national holidays such as Halloween and Christmas.

Easter and our Bunny Boats was a new event which proved to be popular and very timely as it definitely brought visitors to the site in poor weather. Many attractions reported less than expected numbers for the event and a knock-on effect for the season so it was pleasing to buck the trend with this new offer.  It has also given us a great tag line for marketing as we are the only place in the region where you “go underground to see the Easter Bunny”.

Developing our Family Friendly offer, we introduced a Harry Potter Book Night, Explorasaurus and Pirates and Mermaids events all which attracted good attendance figures. The events were held out of hours and based in the portal and evaluation of feedback for all shows many of the visitors had never been to the site before.

Changing our approach to the Beer Festival we rebranded the event as a Bostin Fittle Festival to showcase local beers and also popular Black County Food. It was hoped to bring outside service providers in for the food which was difficult due to it being a new event but, in the end, a good template for a new event was developed. Local crafts folk attended and gave great feedback and our Black Country Menu in the Gongoozler was very well received.

From our engagement with the traders a new Christmas Craft Fayre was put in place which saw over 50 different designer makers attend. Though a late addition to our events calendar this proved to be a really popular event which we will explore further as a prelude to our Christmas Santa Boat offer.

A new style of event for Halloween was put in place in 2017 and this was repeated in 2018. Despite great bookings and feedback the previous year the initial sell of this event was disappointing. Issues with the booking system for a Family Ticket added to this but a free ticket competition launched via social media saw interest quickly rise and though we performed under our anticipated target we certainly had a growth in numbers and income compared to 2017.                                                                                                                                 

In addition, our Halloween Little Skippers Event which ran alongside the main feature was fully booked as it is clear parents are looking for Halloween “fun” for the smaller children.

On the other end of the scale tickets sales for Santa Boats took off very quickly with the boats being fully booked by the third week in November. This was pleasing as we had made a bold decision to drop the November boats and extend the offer in December due to a review of the previous year’s bookings. The event was extended by bringing actors from the pantomime out onto the towpath to help set the tone for the trip. Also, early decision making on the themes for both Halloween and Christmas helped to plan and ensure the whole offer was better branded Christmas helped to plan and ensure the whole offer was better branded and styled to give a more cohesive look to the whole.

DCTT 2018 events leaflet

OPERATIONS

BOAT TRIPS

It was pleasing to see our new boat the “Vic Smallshire” out and operating during the year.  This offered a range of dining boat experiences which were very well received including the Black Country Picnic which really gives a taste of the region. We also booked it out as a floating meeting room and used it to support our open water trips when the weather was poor. The addition of the “Vic Smallshire” (formerly Dreamcatcher) has given us a lot of flexibility on what we can now offer our customers.

Take up for our Open Water trips was not as good as we would have hoped, the three-hour trip proved to be the most popular. To raise profile, we put a bespoke trip up as a lot in the Children in Need auction and this certainly raised our profile with quite a bidding war going on during the auction, eventually raising £1000 for the charity. We also put up new roadside banners showing the full range of trips that Dudley Canal and Tunnel Trust offer and we will continue to try and raise the profile of these for the coming year.

Our 45-minute trips operated daily throughout the year and feedback and customer comments show these are incredibly popular and all mentioned how knowledgeable the Skippers are and what a wonder lies underground. In total we took about ??? visitors underground including the stars of Peaky Blinders, the Bishop of Dudley and Dicky Dodds the West Midlands radio presenter. Our trip also features on the new Doreen Tipton video showcasing her favourite parts of the Black Country. 2018 saw us develop the Skipper role in terms of permanent contract commitments, added responsibilities and new skippers coming in.

HEALTH & SAFETY

Considering the complexities of the DCTT offer and potential for hazards 2018 saw only minor incidents in terms of its Health and Safety reporting. The vigilance of the staff, its health and safety policy and continual improvement in the infrastructure is largely responsible for this.  New roller shutter doors, improved electrical supplies, fire warden training and a preventative maintenance plan have all been put into place for 2017 and further developed in 2018.

A review of its mine operation by Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council saw a change in how Dudley Canal and Tunnel Trust will operate going forward. Staff will be trained by Mines Rescue Services to become Mine Supervisors. A comprehensive Mines Safety Plan has been drawn up by the Trust and this will serve as the training document.  This is going to require significant investment from DCTT both in terms of money and time but it will show us to be a model of best practice in this field and we hope to make this expertise available to   similar attractions and businesses.

 MAINTENANCE

A walk around the Portal and our site shows the just how much work we have achieved over 2017/2018 in terms of maintenance and upkeep but also new additions which we have been able to bring to the site. We freed staff time up to have dedicated maintenance days but much of what we have achieved has been thanks to volunteers lending and even managing whole projects.

  • The Gongoozler Allotment Garden and dog friendly seating area
  • Private entrance for Gongoozler
  • The Blue Hut – addition of an accessible toilet and running water
  • Landscaped bank – screening to improve view from the Black Country Museum
  • New maintenance shed and fit out
  • The old shop and maintenance sheds have been removed
  • Tunnel Treasures Exhibition
  • Vic Smallshire refurbishment
  • New boat charging columns
  • New signage throughout the site
  • Container storage and cavern clean up
  • New lights and projectors in the tunnels
  • Refurbished ice cream cart
  • #Winning - awards and What’s On area

By having two dedicated maintenance days a week we have been able to bring a lot of the work back in-house and a preventative maintenance plan has been developed.

Sadly, hold ups at the dry dock in 2018 meant we were not able to complete as much work on the boats as we would have liked so we will be looking to trial a different site in 2019.  All repair work was completed, and our boat inspections went well but we lost time in terms of repainting and improving presentation. 

Boat sailing past the Portal

STAFFING

Over the course of 2017 and 2018 our staff numbers have grown significantly. A large part of this is the bringing of the Gongoozler Restaurant in-house but as our offer has grown so has the need for the support structure behind it, especially with the larger events such as Halloween and Christmas growing in popularity and scope of offer.

We created a new post of Office Administrator to be the first point of contact with our visitors. This has proved invaluable, especially when the Halloween and Christmas bookings were coming in fast. Pleasingly we were able to do this in conjunction with Dudley College and their apprenticeship scheme.

We were able to review the Skipper contracts and give permanent hours across the year to a number of our staff, in addition we expanded the role to become key holders. This gives us greater flexibility for times when the Operations Manager and their Assistant are not available. The key holder takes responsibility for the day to day operation of the trips and are the first point of contact for the staff and visitors. The Key Holders were able to complete first line Managers Courses and have made a real difference to continuity of operations.

During 2017/2018 we saw two Managers complete courses – Sarah Fellows our Heritage Activities Manager completed her Arts Connect Leadership Course and Becky Wright completed her GEKKO Management Course. Both got a lot out of the course and immediately began bringing what they had learnt to their department operations. Staff also attended First Line Management courses, Fire Warden training, became Dementia Friendly Champions as well as their First Aid and MCA training. 

 

FINANCE

It’s fair to say that 2017/2018 was a very busy time for the Finance Department. With the mergers not being completed as hoped we were effectively managing four companies which meant four sets of accounts and reporting being required.  Full audits have been completed for each and these are available through Companies House or the Charity Commission. 

In 2017 it was agreed to move all account procedures over to a new system called XERO which was much more user friendly and allowed senior managers and Trustees access to financial information, but needed to be set up alongside our existing systems.  This took quite a while to set up as we began implementing new cost codes and budget headings to better represent the business and how it was going to develop. From this a range of reports, year on year comparisons and performance analysis can be easily developed which has streamlined operations.

New style budgets, finance reports and control measures were developed throughout the period along with a review of contracts and service level agreements to ensure we were getting the best returns.  

  

THE WORKING GROUP

The working group continued with their activities and it was a real highlight when Bittell won the 2017 HNBC Hemelryk Award for most improved steel or composite boat and we received a very fine trophy which has been proudly on display in Tunnel Treasures.

HISTORIC BOATS

Our historic Boats Sagitta and Bittel have been out and about around the West Midlands engaging with the public and showing how life was lived and worked on the canals.

They attended their usual timetable of events including Crick, The Black Country Boating Festival, The Tipton Boat Festival and Netherton to name but a few.  Our historic boats are always well received and they are a great way of promoting the work the Trust does.

In an effort to add to the offer at The Portal a large part of 2018 saw the boats moored onsite and we made a start on a plan to develop a range of Heritage Open Days to showcase both the boats to our day to day visitors but also encourage new volunteers who are particularly focused on demonstrating these beautiful boats and relating the many stories they have to tell.

As well as demonstration duties at festivals the boats are also a very practical asset for us, they were used in 2018 for filming, including the very popular show Peaky Blinders and Bittel and the Flying Scott were also hired by the MNA to do structural inspections prior to work starting on the Metro.  We plan to expand school bookings and their offer, and the historic boats will be a large part of this. For instance, Sagitta was the focus of a Virtual Reality Project which saw students bring to life a typical day in the life of a mother onboard.

Sagitta, historic boat with its original family

WORK PARTIES

2017/2018 saw a full program of work parties and its volunteers rolling up their sleeves and getting out and about to ensure our canals looked the best they could and were clear of obstructions for day to day boating but also events. 

Working both on our site but also lending support to other organisations and areas the team reinstated paths, repaired banks, cut back overgrowth and fished everything out of the canal from a cupboard full of fire extinguishers to a motorbike.

Setting up for Parkhead Festival requires a monumental amount of work but for our 2018 event the site looked fantastic thanks to the team. Low water, attempted unauthorised access to the area and mixed weather added to their efforts but they would not be defeated, and the site was ready for the first of an estimated 10,000 visitors came and enjoyed all that was on offer, including a guest appearance by Fuzz Townsend of Car SOS.

MEMBERSHIP

Pleasingly membership has stayed buoyant during 2017 and 2018 with the latter having the highest number to date. We are aware that our membership scheme represents fantastic value for money, but these are great supporters and advocates for the work we do on site.

2018 saw the return of the members boat trip through the Dudley Tunnel, an event we want to develop more and a full program of socials with a range of guest speakers, historic photographic slide presentations and opportunities to share memories of personal journeys on our waterways.

The Legger continues to be well received and packed full of articles, pictures and information about the Trust and its development. For the 250th edition we were able to reproduce much of what had been developed for the first issue thanks to the work the archives have been doing onsite.

ARCHIVES

Since its conception our Archives Team have been diligently creating order and a resource out of a lot of “stuff.” This department is run exclusively by volunteers and is an area of the Trust we really want to develop and get more public engagement with the offer.

Here our archivist Mike Skidmore gives us a quick recap of their journey so far.

In September 2015, whilst manning our heritage narrowboat ‘Sagitta’ at one of the local canal events my wife Hilary and I were approached by the then Chairman of Dudley Canal Trust, Alex Parker, who asked if we would be up for a challenge.

On enquiring what it might be, he told us that he was looking for someone to put the DCT archive into some sort of order, as several people had attempted it before and had not stuck at it for whatever reason.

Hilary and I arranged to meet up with Alex at the pump house to see what was involved. We were daunted at the number of boxes and cabinets full of paperwork, books, magazines etc. However, we thought we would give it a go. Fortunately, there was room available for us to work in the unused ‘Keops’ building (affectionately known as the blue hut) at Todds End, and so on Tuesday 26th January 2016 we started the archiving process. We ordered a flatbed A4 scanner and some stationary, boxes and ring binders etc., so that we could record the documents whereabouts. Initially these were all listed on an Excel spreadsheet.

 Finding that the spreadsheet was barely adequate and being as I had a background in writing software, I decided to write a computer program to suit our requirements, unfortunately we were not provided with a computer so I have used my laptop.  Some three years later, we have now recorded nearly 5,000 individual documents. From these we managed to locate every copy of the ‘Bulletin’, ‘Newsletter’, and ‘Legger’ the in-house journal. The condition of these varied between good to barely readable. After all some of them are over 50 years old. It was therefore decided that we should digitise these - although some of them had to be re-written as the originals were printed on ‘foolscap’ sized paper - so that they will still be readable in the future. We now have all 250 of these available in pdf format.

One of our Trustees, Paul Smith gave us a set of photographic slides associated with the Dudley No.1 and No.2 canals taken by his father, Alan Smith MBE. I have digitised all 637 and these are available on an in-house intranet site, along with over 1300 slides donated by one of our founder members, the late George Smallshire, these have been scanned by another of our members ‘The Fossil’ Over the last 3 years or so, we have converted what was a stock room into an Archive Centre suitable for visitors, and from various sources we have obtained 3 PC’s for use by visitors. I have also installed a small peer-peer network so that all 3 machines can be used at the same time with identical access to the files. Currently any of these documents, photographs etc., can be viewed by booking an appointment with our archives department by emailing [email protected].

 The archives team

 

 DCTT in numbers graphic