The Big Interview: The remarkable Grantham Rivercare team

Just some of the wonderful volunteers who have done their bit to protect the River Witham and its surroundings. Grantham Rivercare leader John Knowles proudly holds their well-deserved Grantham is Great award.
Just some of the wonderful volunteers who have done their bit to protect the River Witham and its surroundings. Grantham Rivercare leader John Knowles proudly holds their well-deserved Grantham is Great award.

Few weeks go by when we’re not reporting on some amazing work done by Grantham Rivercare volunteers – whether that be fishing out everything from trolleys to armchairs from the River Witham, or scrubbing off nearby graffiti.

So it came as no surprise when they were named Community Project of the Year at the Grantham is Great Awards. We spoke to Grantham Rivercare leader John Knowles.

**How did it feel to be named Community Project of the Year? I must point out that this is very much a team effort, and it is the wonderful group of Rivercare volunteers who deserve the credit. On their behalf I know that they are thrilled to receive some recognition for all the hard work they put in. On a personal basis, I am very proud to be part of that team.

**In 2014, Grantham Rivercare celebrated its 10th anniversary – what keeps it going?

While a small section of our community continues to dump rubbish in the river, there will always be a need for Rivercare. That, combined with the determination of our volunteers to keep the river in good shape, ensures a long-lasting service to the community. Also, believe it or not, clearing up rubbish can be a very satisfying and enjoyable experience. We started up 11 years ago and several of the team have been there since day one. Long-lasting friendships have developed and there is a great deal of banter during clean-ups. Rivercare is supported by Keep Britain Tidy, who provide us with advice and equipment, and we’re sponsored by Anglian Water. South Kesteven District Council is very supportive in providing transport and materials. So this is very much a team effort.

**What is the main purpose of Rivercare? To maintain this delightful stretch of the River Witham in the best possible condition. We want both local residents and visitors alike to enjoy the river walk from Bridge End Road to Harrowby Mill. To achieve that, we have to continually clear vast amounts of rubbish from the river and adjacent land. Since setting up, we have collected over 1,000 sacks of small items, such as bottles and cans, numerous shopping trolleys, traffic cones and a variety of other items. In addition to the clean-ups, we have carried out conservation work, given talks to local schools, and advised local agencies on river-based projects. Last year we cleared the invasive species Himalayan Balsam from a stretch in Queen Elizabeth Park – an exercise known as ‘Balsam Bashing’. We also work closely with SKDC in the provision of signage, litter bins and seating along the riverside.

**What is the strangest item you’ve come across? It never ceases to amaze me what ends up in the river. It must take a great deal of effort to dump large items such as shopping trolleys and furniture. Surely it would be easier to take them to the waste disposal site? One day SKDC called asking for help to remove a double bed. When our team arrived and I saw what we were faced with, I thought the task impossible. Both the bed and mattress were located in deep water close to the bridge on St Catherine’s Road. However, Rivercare volunteers are a very determined lot and took up the challenge without hesitation. With several grappling hooks and a great deal of physical effort, the offending items were successfully removed.

**What do you think of people who dump rubbish in the river? Believe it or not I feel sorry for those people, as they obviously cannot appreciate what a beautiful feature we have so close to the town centre. On the other hand, I would love someone to be caught and charged for the offence, and to receive a suitable punishment – a huge fine and working on every Rivercare clean-up for a year. It would only need one person to be caught, to be a huge deterrent for others.

**How can people get involved in Rivercare? We are on Facebook, where reports on recent events are posted, as are details of forthcoming activities.