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Jeremy Corbyn

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn jumped off the 2019 election trail to talk exclusively to WW about his little-known passion for the canals

Having grown up in Shropshire, Jeremy Corbyn was always close to the waterways as a youngster. His family owned an old fishing boat moored at High Onn Wharf on the Shropshire Union on which they had many holidays afloat across the network, especially on the Avon and the Severn. “It was great fun. The boat had an Austin Seven marine engine in it. I became very good at fixing Austin Seven marine engines…”

He’s now a strong supporter of the waterways and spoke of protecting the lines of unrestored canals so that they can be reopened in the future – a passion that began before his political career took off. “When I was at school we started a campaign to get the Shrewsbury to Norbury canal reopened. I’ve still got the maps… The problem was getting the support of the then British Waterways. I think it’s hard to see how [the restoration] would happen now. It’s still ongoing, but I think the problem would be linking up with the Shropshire Union system at Norbury.”

Jeremy has also seen, first hand, the wider benefits of canal restoration. “My mum and dad lived in a small village just outside Devizes on the Kennet & Avon. My mum had mixed feelings about the Kennet & Avon being reopened. She changed her mind later, but initially argued: ‘It’s a lovely place and a beautiful wildlife reserve as it is.’ And I said: ‘If it reopens for boating that will actually guarantee its future. If you leave it as it is, that’s not certain.’ And she kind of accepted that. When it was reopened she was actually very happy about it, because it led to quite a big economic boom for very small places all along the canal to Devizes.”

While no longer in possession of a boat, Mr Corbyn continues to enjoy the waterways through books and bike rides. “I love the history of the canals, right back to the Bridgewater Canal. I have a whole shelf of canal history books at home. I visit the waterways quite a lot too, mainly cycling alongside them – the Lee Navigation especially, up to Broxbourne. It’s a fantastic place for wildlife.”

Read the full interview in January 2020 Waterways World