Grantham Canal: ‘Being a volunteer is sheer joy’
As a reporter, I have had the privilege of meeting so many different people from all walks of life, including many charities, organisations and volunteers.
One of those groups has been the Grantham Canal Society (GCS). As one of Grantham’s wonderful local amenities, which attracts visitors from all over the UK and abroad, I have followed their work closely as they work to restore the canal to its former glory and return it to full navigation.
Despite being closed in 1936 after years of commercial use, government legislation 30 years later meant that the canal was at risk of being filled in and turned into a rubbish tip.
Several groups and individuals campaigned against these plans and, following a meeting with the Civic Trust, the Grantham Canal Society was created. Often described as ‘the engine which drives the restoration,’ GCS main aim is to open the canal to full navigation, connecting Grantham once again to over 2,000 miles of inland navigable waterways.
So when they offered me the chance to see firsthand what is involved by spending a morning with their workparty, I jumped at the opportunity.
With strict instructions to wear old clothing and stout boots, I arrived at Woolsthorpe Canal Depot on Saturday, where I was greeted by events co-ordinator and assistant head ranger Tony Jackson, who introduced me to the rest of the work party for that day. Members of the workparty can choose to volunteer on either Friday or Saturday, with five or six volunteers normally attending each day.
Despite it being before 9am, a table laden with sweet treats and homemade cakes and flapjacks awaited us, which had all been homemade by Mary Noble, something she does for the volunteers each week, with volunteers describing it as being ‘as good as a full English.’
After a quick briefing about the day’s tasks and changing into my hi vis and hard hat, we headed to Lock 18, where we hopped onboard their 1930s vintage workboat ‘Centauri’ to Harlaxton Wharf.
The 42ft workboat is in constant demand carrying materials to worksites and bringing home the spoils of the day’s work.
Unable to pick up much speed, it gave me chance to catch up with a few of the workparty volunteers onboard.
Sallyann Watson is one of only a handful of female volunteers in the workparty after joining two months ago.
She said: “People come from all over the region to volunteer here and learn a new skill. As far as a volunteering role goes, this offers the most variety as there is something for everyone.”
The journey to Harlaxton Wharf took us along the banks of the Grantham canal. With the sun beating down, I had definitely picked a good day, although I was under no illusion that this type of weather was the ‘norm’ with the volunteers quick to point out that they are ‘out in all weather come wind, rain or shine.’
Maybe it was the glorious weather but there was something about being on the boat that made people on the banks stop, smile and wave. We passed several walkers, families on bikes, joggers and dog walkers, who all stopped to shout hello.
All too soon, we arrived at Harlaxton Wharf where we got a briefing from operations manager Ian Wakefield and the workparty split into two.
Half of the party operated the Mudlark, a dredger, fitted with a Smalley digger and requires a specially trained crew to operate. They were tasked with removing a tree from the canal, whereas the rest of the volunteers were asked to start clearing the self set trees from the side of the canal bank, an arduous task which involved hacking away at the over hanging branches and throwing them on to the side of the bank to provide a habitat for bankside creatures.
Self set trees can be problematic as they can spread very quickly and can invade valuable habitats such as heathland and species rich grassland.
Unable to join those on the Mudlark as I am not trained to do so, I accompanied the other volunteers, one of which was Tony Goodman, from Ropsley, who has only joined GCS two weeks ago after retiring from the army.
He said: “I have been interested in the canal for quite awhile. As a youth, I remember my parents owning a cabin cruiser. It is early days still but it feels good to be back in touch.”
Mark Duncan joined in January 2017 after hearing about the society at a stall in Sainsbury’s supermarket.
He said: “I work in IT for a travel company, so this enables me to get out in the countryside and gives me a sense of doing something good. I enjoy working with the team and meeting different people. I like to look back at the work that I have done and think I’ve done that.”
John Clark, 70, joined the GCS five years ago after 38 years in the Royal Air Force (RAF) and 10 years at Morrison’s.
He said: “Although there are a good range of ages, the majority of volunteers have retired. With more time on our hands, we wanted to put it to good use. I have always wanted to volunteer for something that I am passionate about. I was looking at steam heritage railways but then a friend told me about GCS and I’ve not looked back since.
“Being a canal volunteer gives me sheer joy. It keeps my body and mind active and I enjoy being able to do something to give back for the future generation. There is huge potential here. I like to see jobs through and create a lasting foundation for others to come and take over.”
As we break for lunch, I meet Tony Osbond, the special projects manager, who has been volunteering for 18 months.
He said: “I have always been a member but after retiring I wanted something to get my teeth into.
After many years as a business development manager in the construction industry, the canal gives me somewhere that I can use those skills. We are out in all weathers, not a lot stops us.”
The Three Shires Narrowboat cater for groups of up to 10 people and you can select a cruise time from two, three and four hours.
It’s an inexpensive way to have a family outing, celebrate a birthday or anniversary, where you can sit back, relax and watch the wildlife. Canal crusies provide important income to the society, enabling volunteers to continue with their work.
To book your cruise visit the society’s website at www.granthamcanal.org