Illustration by Christiane Engel
Words by Peter Watts
December provides a chance to look back at the past year as well as look forward to what’s coming ahead. Here at Canal & River Trust, this means looking back to celebrate the incredible work of our growing army of volunteers through 2019. And the first few months of 2020 are all about our Open Day winter programme, which gives you a unique opportunity to see some of the brilliant essential work done by Trust staff across the network.
Let’s start with the past year. In 2019, Canal & River Trust volunteers gave an extraordinary 670,000 hours of combined time to our network – each and every minute of which helped make the canals a better place for all. To celebrate this contribution, the Marsh Christian Trust and the Canal & River Trust have named this year’s volunteers awards from across the Trust’s regions.
The awards cover a wide range of volunteering contributions including some who have spent their spare time in the archives helping to catalogue important collections for the National Waterways Museum and others who have got their hands dirty by widening the navigation for boaters on the Trent. There are some who have used their knowledge and skills to help restore complex paddle gear and others who inexhaustibly and cheerfully maintain the 21-lock Wigan Flight on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. There are two awards in each region – a team award and an individual award.
Richard Parry, our chief executive, emphasises that the awards recognise the increasingly important contribution volunteers make to the network. “These awards showcase the fantastic contribution that volunteers make, carrying out a vast array of activities and tasks, bringing their wide and expanding range of skills and experience, along with their enthusiasm, passion and sheer hard work,” he says. “I offer my congratulations to them all. Our volunteers also demonstrate how our canals, rivers and towpaths can deliver greater wellbeing, showcasing how they improve their own physical and mental health by spending time with us.”
Winter Open Days
Looking ahead to 2020, volunteers will be in attendance at our upcoming Winter Open Days. A number of these are being scheduled across the network over the colder months, when the canals see a slowdown in the numbers of people using them. That makes it the perfect occasion to engage in some of the heavy duty maintenance work that is essential to ensure the 200-year old infrastructure remains usable. This is the time of the year when sections of the canals can be drained and locks can be closed, allowing the Trust’s engineers to shore up banks, dredge canal bottoms and replace lock gates. There is a rolling programme for this sort of work, and the Trust also uses it as an opportunity to attract visitors to the canals so they can see in close detail the sort of work that is needed to ensure the canals are fit for purpose.
This winter’s open days should include events at two of the network’s most iconic locations – the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal and Foxton Locks on the Leicester line of the Grand Union. Both are due some well-deserved TLC, and this also provides the Trust with a unique opportunity to showcase this side of their work. Maintenance work will be taking place at several other places around the country over the winter months and more than half-a-dozen Open Days are being planned. While dates and times aren’t all confirmed at the time of writing, you can keep up to date with planned Open Day events via our website.
What’s coming up near me in 2020?
Although there are no planned Open Days in the East Midlands over the winter period, the season does provide a chance to visit the River Trent at Derwent Mouth. This is where the South Derbyshire Taskforce – a team of 11 core members but several others have also contributed – have helped clear a stretch of navigation that was previously only wide enough for a single boat. This required a lot of hard work, involving the removal of sunken vegetation and silt and had to be done in some pretty gruelling conditions – on one occasion, the team had to break the ice to get the boat out.
An individual award went to Neil Page, a valued volunteer lock keeper who frequently went above and beyond the call of duty including going to the shops to get supplies for stranded boaters. It’s this sort of engagement that makes the waterways a more enjoyable environment for all users including the boats that still use the canals and rivers to get around the country. The South Derbyshire Taskforce and Neil Page make that better for everybody.
Posted on 23/12/2019