An open letter to Matthew Symonds and CRT

Following Matthew Symonds’ denial on Twitter that he referred to liveaboard boaters as “gits”, one of the former colleagues who overheard him say so has written the open letter below to Mr Symonds and CRT Customer Feedback. Headed “An Open Letter Re: Article: ‘CRT Relationship Manager: Liveaboards are ‘gits’, K&A Boating Community website, 30th April 2016”, Yaz Brien writes:

Dear Matthew,

I’m not sure that you’d remember me, although we’ve crossed paths a few times over the years.

The first was at an event back in 2007. I was working as Bristol’s Race Forum Development Worker, and you were giving an update to the voluntary sector about the latest local authority strategies.

The second time was in 2011 when I toured you around Bristol Wood Recycling Project during their birthday celebration. I was recently in post as an Employee Director, and you’d accepted our invitation on behalf of the organisation you were working for. I enjoyed our chats as I showed you around, and we talked at length about the work that we were both doing.

The third time was earlier this year, as I was leaving a training session with former colleagues of yours. It was the 4th February to be exact, and we were hovering on the pavement outside the Southville Centre as you passed by and stopped for a quick hello with those that you knew. It was this conversation that forms the source of the comments that you state. via Twitter, are “certainly not something I’ve ever said”. But you did say them Matthew, and you said them twice.

As the group of us swelled with people leaving the training session, twice you were directly asked about your new job as Strategy and Engagement Manager at CRT, as your former colleagues were genuinely interested as to how it was going. Twice you commented that you loved your job, ‘aside from the gits on the liveaboards’. In fact, I recollect they were the only two comments that you made specifically about your job, suggesting to me that they may have been the two most pressing things on your mind when you thought about your work.

From my previous encounters with you, I was surprised and disappointed to hear those words coming from you, however much you may have meant them in jest or good humour. Whilst I appreciate that CRT endeavours to balance a number of needs in relation to the canal network, and understand that those needs may at times be in conflict, making even offhand comments about a section of the beneficiaries of CRT is indeed a serious cause for concern. Furthermore, while you have publically made pains to reinforce the fact that CRT is not a public body, and therefore you are not a public officer, your specific role does include managing and developing relationships across the canal network. My confidence in your ability to do that fairly, and with the needs of all beneficiaries equally in your mind waned on that day, and this is why I have spoken with boat dwelling friends about our encounter and the broader issues with CRT.

To hear now that you have publicly stated, via Twitter, “It is not something I would ever say” and “Certainly not something I’ve ever said” is even more disappointing. While I appreciate that you may regret that these words have now entered a public sphere, I’m displeased to think that you would deny they were ever spoken.

And don’t get me wrong, I was as surprised as you to hear that conversations I have had about our encounter are now in written form swirling around the internet. From my part, I did not write nor publish the article written about you, and nor do I know the writer. But I do know that former colleagues of yours looked uncomfortably over at me when you made the “git” comment as they know I have long been planning to move onto the canal, and also know that I have close ties with members of the boating community around the Kennet and Avon and beyond.

Prior to this role at CRT you had a strong track record in neighbourhoods and communities work, but something is clearly going wrong. And while I don’t want my sharing of your words to become a witch-hunt against you, as you are merely a functionary within a bigger organisation with a strategy in place for management of the waterways, they do lead me to question the current culture, structure and decision-making body at CRT as a whole.

While, as Wikipedia points out, “git” “is usually an insult, more severe than twit or idiot but less severe than wanker, arsehole or twat”, it is not the strength of the insult that is the issue. It is a derogatory comment about a section of the canal community just at the time that the Canal and River Trust is being publically challenged to be accountable, consistant and transparent as to the rules and stipulations that those license holders who are continuously cruising are expected to adhere to.

It is time for CRT to enter into a transparent and constructive dialogue with the continuous cruising users of the waterways, and to cease prohibitive, unclear and constantly changing measures for how continuous cruisers can maintain their licenses and their homes. These positions have been much more eloquently presented to you by boat dwellers themselves, and they must be addressed by CRT.

Yours sincerely,

Yaz Brien

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