What to name the New Waterways Charity?

Throughout January research was conducted to test possible names for the new waterways charity (NWC) which will take over the management of the waterways in 2012.

Following that research British Waterways has set up a poll which it hopes will make sure as many people as possible can have their say. (The poll closed on Friday 4 February 2011 but BW have said there will be a later consultation where we will have another opportunity to express our views).

Looking at the poll when I voted, I saw two flaws:

  1. The appeal on BW’s website says ‘Please put your suggestion forward by filling in a short online poll’. The poll doesn’t actually allow that – it just offers a chance to vote for a fixed list of names.
  2. The list of suggested names doesn’t include all those that have been suggested.

Several suggestions were made at BW’s AGM and they aren’t all in the list. A source at BW suggested that the list only includes those that were submitted by the highest number of people. On the surface that sounds democratic but I’m sorry, pre-selecting that way essentially means that a really brilliant suggestion made by a single individual may not have made the list.

I’ve made this point on the survey site and also added my suggested name (actually, not mine, but one that a member of BWAF proposed) but when I re-visited the survey site to see if the list had been expanded, I found the above link no longer worked and I got into a cycle between two pages – possibly this is a device to prevent me from voting again.

The name I liked so much was either ‘Waterways of Britain’  or ‘Waterways for Britain’ – I can’t remember exactly which but as they both have a certain ring and to do the originator justice I have proposed both.

BW’s website points out that it is important that any prospective name does ‘what it says on the tin’ i.e. it should show that the charity is about ‘waterways’ or ‘canals & rivers’. Secondly, the name should evoke a feeling amongst the wider public that waterways are a worthy ‘cause’ (and therefore include the terms ‘charity’ or ‘trust’).

I agree with these points  but not rider in the second about the terms charity or trust. I think a name should be acceptable as long as it gives a clear sense of the objectives of the charity. I think ‘Waterways of Britain’ does that and, I suppose, one could also add the word Trust on official documents but then drop it for marketing purposes.

There is a lot of support for not having a name change at all. There is a powerful argument for this view: a name change will cost a substantial amount of money which BW (and Government) could put to better use.

It is true that a name change will be expensive – new lettering on vehicles, signs, stationery, staff clothing etc., let along the design costs – but the counter argument is that perhaps as many as 90% of the 13 million people that use the waterways see BW as an anonymous public body. There is a wide-spread belief that their local waterway is just there and will be forever. There is little, if any, appreciation of the role of BW or that it is subject to ever decreasing government funding and that their local waterway is actually at risk.

In the end, whether NWC succeeds or not is going to be down to the success of a marketing campaign designed to get the public involved. If we retain the name, we lose the opportunity to re-brand BW so that the public (and BW’s employees) is aware that something dramatic has changed. The same old BW logo suggests the same old BW and no-one wants that. New branding will fuel the public’s interest – ‘what is this new organisation?’ – and focus media attention.




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