PLANS to turn Oxford’s 222-year-old canal into a new attraction for visitors and residents have been given a boost by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

A grant of £65,000 has been secured to help renew interest in the 3.5 miles of canal running through the city.

The Oxford City Canal Partnership will use the money to raise awareness of the canal and celebrate its history with a variety of projects including sign posting, an art exhibition, an aural history archive, and a community event planned in September.

There are also plans for four “listening benches”, where people can use mobile phones and other devices to hear about the canal’s history, along with short plays linked to the canal.

The Canal Partnership, established in 2009, includes Oxford City Council, Oxfordshire County Council, the Environment Agency and Inland Waterways Association, along with conservation and heritage groups, Jericho Community Association, St Edward’s School and Worcester College.

Tony Joyce, chairman of the Jericho Living Heritage Trust, said: “The canal is a really attractive part of Oxford , providing opportunity for recreation of all sorts: walking along the towpath, access to places like Port Meadow and for those who enjoy being on the water. But I don’t believe Oxford makes as much of it as it could.

“The Canal and River Trust’s resources are fully committed to their main responsibility, the operation and maintenance of the waterways. So it is excellent news that the Heritage Lottery Fund has stepped in to fund this project, which ensures that the very significant heritage aspects of the canal are not neglected.”

Kate Saffin, who co-ordinated the bid , said a key aim will be to inform people about the canal’s role in the development of the city and the lives of people who worked on it.

She said: “It will involve the whole length of the canal within the city’s boundaries. It will be a chance to share the memories of industries and places like Wolvercote Papermill and Lucy’s before they disappear.”

A project manager is being recruited to work with local volunteers, schools and writers. The team will also be drawing on the skills of professional writers and experts in aural history.

The Oxford Canal began as a busy industrial trade route in the 18th and early 19th centuries but gradually fell into decline. The partnership believes it is under-appreciated in its role as a hidden green corridor of Oxford, rich in heritage.

The canal has also been the focus of two high-profile campaigns. In the 1950s the poet Sir John Betjeman championed a campaign to save the canal from possible closure, and there is an ongoing campaign to retain a boatyard in Jericho that is supported by author Philip Pullman.

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