Bridge8 hub: canal social enterprise

Edinburgh’s Canal Champion, Gavin Corbett, profiles Bridge8 hub, a social enterprise operating on the Union Canal.

First opened in 1822, the Union Canal winds its way from Tollcross to the Falkirk Wheel. It is Scotland’s only contour canal, following the 73m contour line along its 31 mile length.

Just before the canal crosses the city bypass, there is a cluster of old shipping containers at Calder Crescent. This is home to one of the city’s most inventive social enterprises, Bridge 8 Hub CIC which, over the last 7 years has fashioned a bustling outdoor activities hub right on the edge of the Calders estate.

Around the site are the Calders Community Garden, Bike for Refugees (Scotland) and Bridge 8 Dragons Boats, a cancer-based charity which supports survivors of breast cancers. But the core of the site is Bridge8 itself, offering canoeing, kayaking, akwakating, raft-building, mountain-biking, archery and much more besides. Visitors are welcomed at the café right beside the towpath and to hire canoes or take part in activities, as individuals, groups and families. I’ve seen groups from scouts, schools, Duke of Edinburgh participants and events from birthdays parties to hen gatherings.

In charge of Bridge8 is Sean Barry. He explained to me why it is so vital to him that Bridge8 is a social enterprise.

“Getting outdoors is for everyone to enjoy, whatever their income and whatever stuff has been going on in their lives. As a young person growing up in Craigmillar, Edinburgh Council gave me my first opportunity to try these activities. I have spent all of my life working in the outdoor industry and I truly believe everyone should have the chance to participate in paddle sports and other outdoor activities.

”So this is the Edinburgh that I want to see in 2050 and why we keep prices as low as we can, and why we are located in the Calders, rather in some of the city’s leafier areas. Edinburgh has an amazing asset in the Union Canal and people have lived right beside the canal all of their lives and yet never had a chance to go on the water. I want to change that through my work at Bridge 8 Hub and in partnership with Edinburgh City Council Outdoor Learning Team.”

At the start of May, Bridge 8 Hub was the gathering point for a huge canal clean-up exercise led by Scottish Canals and charity Sustrans, with over 100 residents and community groups and businesses like McDonalds, the DWP and Shure. A massive 220 bags of litter were collected between Hailes Quarry Park and the bypass, along with the usual trollies, bikes, cones and tyres – both by foot and by canoe, kayak and paddle-board.

It is real evidence of the benefits of building a thriving canalside project which connects local residents and businesses to the canal in their midst. The millennium link, which restored the canal through Wester Hailes and the Calders two decades ago, has been a big success but a lot more needs to be done to make sure that communities feel part of the canal, rather than simply being beside the canal.

That is certainly a big theme for Scottish Canals. Over in Glasgow I have been impressed by the efforts made to create a canal corridor, with a focus on creative enterprises and including the impressive Pinkston Watersports Centre. It’s like Bridge8 but with a lot more investment. Here in Edinburgh there is certainly the appetite and ambition to do the same which could be transformative, both at Bridge8 hub and the wider Calders area.

Find out more about our canal by coming along on the afternoon of Saturday 15 June to the annual canal festival at Fountainbridge.

Gavin Corbett is Green councillor for Fountainbridge-Craiglockhart and Edinburgh Canal Champion.  This article was first published in the Edinburgh Evening News on 3 June 2019