On the 19th September I had the pleasure of a conversation with the esteemed Joe Norman, Chairman of MARLENS (Marine Lake Enthusiasts). I say esteemed because, in the course of enquiring about who was the best person to talk to, everyone spoke about Joe in such glowing terms. His tireless commitment to everything related to the lake was a common theme. Joe heads up a very hard working, dedicated team of Trustees and volunteers whose unstinting work was recognised in 2016 with the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service – the highest honour a voluntary group can receive in the UK.
Joe and the group were delighted to accept the reward and in their conversation with the North Somerset Times at the time, acknowledged the significant contribution of the late Arthur Knott. Cllr Knott had a particular interest in the lake as Clevedon Sailing Club Cadet Officer, and recognised its importance and value to the community. Cllr Knott established MARLENS in 2004 with the aim of promoting the Marine Lake and urging the authorities to do something about its continuing decline before it was too late.
MARLENS is the charity behind the restoration, the day-to-day running of the lake and on-going improvements. It was MARLENS, in 2014, working with North Somerset Council, Clevedon Town Council and Clevedon Civic Society that secured the £850,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund for the restoration. Work began in March 2015 and the lake was ready for use in time for the annual MARLENS / Tides Festival in September 2015. Watching the work progress over this period was fascinating.
Much was achieved with the lottery funding:
- The outer dam was strengthened and sealed.
- The original sluices were re-installed so the lake could drain and refill quickly and prevent the silt from building up.
- The lower promenade was re-surfaced and levelled all the way to the pump house corner.
- A ramp was added to the Salthouse end for wheelchairs and baby buggies.
- A toddler splash pool was added at the Little Harp end, with seating for parents.
- A swimmers’ island was constructed.
- The lake and the surroundings were all cleaned.
I started off by asking Joe about the different groups using the lake and was surprised by just how much usage it gets.
Joe: It’s used by the Clevedon Canoe Club and a number of others, stand-up paddle boarders, the Clevedon Sailing Club, the Royal Life Saving Society, the Clevedon Model Boat Club and the Clevedon Pilot Gig Club, they all make good use of it. The Gig Club can’t use their big gigs but they have smaller ones they can put on the water. Rowing is also becoming a real growth area. There is the Clevedon Lake and Sea Swimmers Facebook Group, Clevedon Amateur Swimming Club and the Portishead and Clevedon Triathlon Club – it’s very popular with open water swimmers because it’s a safe place to train; they’re not going to get swept away! Lots of schools use it too – St Nicholas Chantry do a basic proficiency level paddle and sailing course every year and Taunton School’s long-distance swimming club practise on the lake. It’s popular with schools in the summer term when they have Activity Days and Activity Weeks. When we drain the lake and clean the silt, we leave some around the edges, so it’s a haven for crabs. You will always see children down there crabbing! At the height of the summer we had the zorbs out and some little paddle boats. Next year, we’re going to have a small walled enclosure for the children in their boats which will make it easier for parents to monitor. And then of course we have huge numbers down there just enjoying the sunshine.
FacesofClevedon: I didn’t realize the full extent of its use.
Joe: Clevedon Marine Lake has also been used for filming – Bollywood, CBeebies and of course Broadchurch.
FacesofClevedon: Are there any plans for further development?
Joe: In the short term, we’re keen to provide more concrete seating and we’d like to brighten up the splash pool area. We had always intended it to be more colourful but we just ran out of money. There are a group of Mums working on plans for this.
FacesofClevedon: And longer term?
Joe: We’d very much like to reinstate the toilet at the Wainshill end of the lake. The closest public toilets are behind the cafe at the east end of the lake which is not very practical if you’re there with two or three children.
Thinking long term, we’d like to replace the current boat store, it needs to be fit-for-purpose and at the moment it’s very full and there’s no room for expansion.
Again, thinking long term, we’d very much like to build a second slipway for the public, something broader and straighter which is easier to launch the pilot gigs and motorcraft, but the Sailing Club need to redevelop their slipway first.
Any improvements we make are strongly influenced by the people using the lake for watersports because our remit is to increase use on the lake. We need to find a way to pass on responsibility to the next generation. We have a group of young people doing water testing and another doing clear-ups but we would like to see more engagement.
FacesofClevedon: What are you doing about the build-up of mud?
Joe: We have twelve over topping Spring tides a year and for the last ninety years the silt has been going over the wall and no permission has been needed to throw it back. Now we have to apply to the Marine Management Organization, to put it back in the estuary because we are put in the same bracket as a large commercial harbour. It will cost several thousand pounds to get the permission and to tip it back over. It may take a couple of years to clear three and a half years of mud!
FacesofClevedon: How do you fund this and any other improvements?
Joe: We have a trickle of money coming in from multiple sources: donations – we get quite a few, Friends of Clevedon Marine Lake, the Lottery, open water events including Clevedon Long Swim, the collection boxes and then through the entertainment evenings we put on like Winterfest and the Last Night of the Proms.
FacesofClevedon: Was the Marlens Festival a good way of raising funds?
Joe: It didn’t ever raise a lot of money! It was a community festival to celebrate the lake, and in that respect it was a great success. However, the cost of putting it on was very high and increasing each year, and any monies made by individual stall holders were retained by them. At best, we would make £2,000, at worst we could lose £2,000. Two days of bad weather would mean financial disaster and would bankrupt us. It was just too risky.
FacesofClevedon: How do you feel the summer went?
Joe: It was remarkable. There were so many people down there, many from further afield, there was so much going on and they all co-existed happily. It exceeded capacity which was a concern in terms of health and safety because we have no lifeguard down there, and as Trustees we are responsible for safety. We give plenty of advice to the public but we can’t enforce it. We are currently talking to North Somerset Council about a better way of managing it safely.
FacesofClevedon: What were the key positives this summer?
Joe: The growth in use, the enthusiasm of the public and user groups beginning to come up with ideas to progress further development.
FacesofClevedon: It’s a big job you’ve taken on, I wonder what is your motivation?
Joe: It’s worth doing, it needs doing and it’s very rewarding to see the lake being so well used. I’d like to have more time to myself but there you go! What I’d really like is to work myself out of a job and hand it on to a new generation at some point.
It was really interesting and very informative talking to Joe. FacesofClevedon will do all they can to support the work of Joe and his team and one thing we can do straight away is to promote the upcoming Last Night of the Proms which is on Saturday 20th October 2018. We will highlight any other events in our Forthcoming Events page. You can find out lots more information about Clevedon Marine Lake on the new website which was launched earlier this year.
Find out more about the Marine Lake here: