Brand Report: British Waterways

The organisation is preparing for charitable status with new branding, finds John Plummer

Canel & River Trust's new logo
Canel & River Trust's new logo

In spring, British Waterways will leave the public sector and become one of the country's largest charities under a new name - the Canal & River Trust. Pursuing this route resulted in a major rebranding exercise a year ago. One of the first decisions that had to be made was whether to change the name. British Waterways is a long-standing and well-known brand, but Simon Salem, marketing director at the organisation, says there were concerns about whether the word "waterways" was widely understood. "It is not a name ordinary people tend to use," says Salem.

There was another problem with the name: British Waterways in Scotland will remain a public corporation, and it would be inaccurate to describe the new charity as British.

The British Waterways logoSo the organisation, which cares for 2,200 miles of inland waterways, decided on a fresh start and began the process of seeking a new name and visual identity. It approached a number of creative agencies, saying this was a rare opportunity to design a logo as iconic as the WWF's panda or the National Trust's oak leaf.

Early last year, Pentagram was appointed on a pro bono basis, with a brief to develop a timeless brand that would position the new charity as a haven for nature. British Waterways research had shown that this was the charity's main emotional appeal. Various concepts were assessed by internal focus groups consisting of British Waterways' stakeholders, including its Whitehall sponsor, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Salem says the new name explains what the charity does and is easily understood. It is a major break from the past, but the new logo, depicting a swan, keeps the humpback bridge from British Waterways' logo. Salem says the swan "evokes the right feelings". The old black-and-white brand colours have also been retained.

Salem says altering existing signs by putting on vinyl covers displaying the new brand is relatively inexpensive. The main cost, he says, will be paying people to do this on waterways in England and Wales.

"I hope we can get volunteers to help with as many key sites as possible over the summer," says Salem. Replacing the signs will be done gradually to keep costs low, and he says the overall cost of the rebranding will be minimal.


Max du BoisOver the next 10 years, the Canal & River Trust has to persuade people to donate a total of £6m a year. The 'nature space' they want to occupy is crowded and competitive, full of established charity brands such as the National Trust and the RSPB. It needs to carve out its place and make the case for the essential role canals and waterways play in our lives, rather than just being a nice place to hang out.

I don't feel the new logo will do this. It's a nice piece of design - but that's not the point. If you know British Waterways, you might see the links with the past. If you don't, and one of the goals is to attract more people, then it doesn't really tell you much - quite literally, given that the name is apologetically shrunk at the bottom.

A blend of revolution and evolution? It's neither fish nor fowl.

Creativity: 3
Delivery: 2
Total: 5 out of 10

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