There’s a ‘feel-good’ factor around any angling club that prospers as an active participant in its local community. So when a story emerges of a club making friends with its neighbours despite the odds being firmly stacked against it, the warm glow always intensifies.
Meet Rochdale Walton Angling Society.
It’s not a club blessed with idyllic chalk streams or gently babbling rivers on its territories although the four waters it currently offers do look great when viewed through a camera lens on a glorious summer’s evening. But the truth is those waters sit within some challenging urban areas of Greater Manchester and have been exposed to hair-curling levels of anti-social behaviour that has included random fire damage, fly tipping and the indiscriminate and gratuitous culling of wildlife.
Yet despite all of this, Rochdale Walton has developed a growing local reputation as a club that engages with its neighbours for the betterment of the whole community rather than just the anglers within it.
Local families, non-angling lovers of nature, military veterans, groups supporting the unemployed, newly converted or rapidly improving juniors, scout groups on a mission for their latest badge; these are all part and parcel of a week, month, year for Rochdale Walton.
“We’re a pleasure club with friendly matches and facilities we’re happy to share,” says Club Fishery Officer Matt Knowles. “We’ve given all the neighbours and a local nursery a free key to our Healey Dell water which has a fence to protect it. So, if they want to walk around and explore then they can. But instead of putting a man-made fence all the way around, we use any pruning material we take through the year to build a habitat fence. They used to call it dead-hedging and since we’ve been doing that it’s brought in more insects and we’ve noticed a lot more birds around the water.”
The club has installed nature hides for bird watching, while local deer have found it a safe-haven and kingfishers have started to patrol. Owl boxes and bat boxes have been put up, and they’ve planted native trees and flowers.
“As a club, we’re very much into native species. We plant to support the pollinators, resident insects, mammals and birds and our overall approach to fishing is that we prefer our anglers to learn and appreciate. We do have members who branch out for a different type of fishing and there’s certainly a place for it, but the species we’ve mainly invested in are roach, rudd, bream and tench. We’re definitely a club that focuses on traditional fishing.”
The term ‘traditional fishing’ might not be one that most will feel sits well with modern-day junior anglers or ‘newbies’ from the community looking to give the sport a go, but one thing you can say is the approach hasn’t put them off.
Apart from the issuing of keys to the neighbours, there are regular Open Days supported by the Angling Trust. The last one attracted more than 200 locals. They also stage two charity match-fishing events a year which raise several hundred pounds a time for beneficiaries such as the Royal British Legion and Rochdale Military Veterans and there are at least half a dozen junior events. They create participation opportunities for everyone by hosting ‘Let’s Fish’ events that are run in association with the Canal & River Trust and they run free sessions during summer evenings for juniors who don’t even need to be members.
“We have a small water next to our main water at Healey Dell and we’re in the process of transforming that into a junior fishing pond and then there’s the backwater project. Last year we spent a lot of time digging out silt and removing fallen trees that have been there for thirty-odd years and we’re hoping to turn that into a Crucian carp pond if possible.”
The creation of a junior pond shouldn’t ring alarm bells. It doesn’t mean the youngsters will be annexed. Far from it. Rochdale Walton’s philosophy is one of maximisation and integration not segregation. Young anglers will certainly have their own lake, but they can fish all the others too.
As for the Crucian pond, the club sees the opportunity for both anglers and the neighbours to reap benefits.
“We’ve had the Environment Agency down to see us and they advised us about how deep it could be, the problems we might get from trees if too much debris drops in, those sorts of things. It was quite dense and we’ve had to do a lot of clearing out and plant the right sort of species around the pond so the fish can thrive.”
There’s also an association with the local military veterans’ group which has gone from strength to strength ever since the bond was formed.
“We struck upon the idea of offering those in military service the chance to join for a reduced fee as recognition of their service,” says Matt. “There’s no joining fee for them and for £30 a year, they can fish wherever they like and whenever they can. We’ve now got around 40 of them and some of them come down a few times a week.”
The veterans also have their own breakfast club which, thanks to some grant aid sourced through the local Veterans’ Association, is a free facility and is now attracting veteran groups from a slightly wider area than the immediate locality.
From the general community, there’s the local Connexions group, a strategic project aimed at helping the unemployed and reducing social exclusion, which takes advantage of an opportunity to bring in people to meet and interact via angling. There’s also involvement with local scout groups who can sometimes bring around 30 youngsters for organised, free sessions. In each case, the groups can utilise free bait and tackle for the session, all of which is paid for by the club. The Family Fun Days are similarly catered for, so no-one will miss out because they don’t own any tackle.
“This year, we were successful in gaining a grant which was for purchasing seat boxes, poles and accessories. This is tackle that allows us to provide opportunities for people from every group who might not have their own equipment,” says Matt.
And then there’s the Welfare Unit.
In a previous life the Welfare Unit was a shipping container, but now, bedecked with windows, a lakeside view and solar power to reduce energy consumption and bills, it’s an integral part of Rochdale Walton’s set up.
“It was originally funded by our Armed Forces Veterans’ Liaison Officer and was intended to bring in ex and current service personnel so they could hold weekly sessions. But the officer kindly decided the club could also utilise it for whatever means were necessary. So now we use it for the junior sessions and for ‘Saturday Socials’ and for our Well-Being mornings which we run throughout the winter.
“The idea for the winter focus is that during the summer there are people here any day of the week, but in the winter when people are usually stuck inside, we run ‘Well-being Wednesdays’ and we get tea and sandwiches made and hold interactive group sessions with the help of a professional counsellor which means people can just connect.”
There’s an option for users to donate but it’s not obligatory. Whatever the donation box may contribute, the club ensures the running costs for the Welfare Unit are totally covered through fund-raising initiatives they hold throughout the year. These are further supplemented by the many members whose honorariums for work conducted on behalf of the club are immediately returned to the pot.
This then, is a club focused on social connection run by people determined to make sure it socially connects. It – and they – seem to thrive on offering the facilities and the opportunities they provide to as many locals as is possible.
Sometimes though, for even the most determined, life doesn’t run smoothly and currently the club is fighting an order from the local council to remove a protective fence around its Buckley Wood or ‘Sykes’ facility which, ironically, the council itself gave permission for less than a year ago.
The members of Rochdale Walton don’t want a structure which was wholly paid for by club funds, to go to waste. In this part of the world, available cash needs to work hard and be spent wisely. So far, they’ve made the very best of what they have and it’s clear that it’s not just their own anglers who’ve benefitted.
Thanks to angling, a vision and a whole Welfare Unit’s worth of determination, a local community has been brought together – against all odds.