Heritage working boats
The Heritage Working Boats and the volunteers that crew them are here to let you discover for yourself the part canal boats have played in the history of Britain, and more about the families that lived and worked with them.
History is within your grasp, and it's wearing a jaunty neckerchief!”
In parallel with the development of canals came the development of the craft that would travel them. The new canals were difficult to traverse so necessitated specially designed narrowboats and skilled crews to man them.
We want you to be able to understand and feel the stories of these boats, people and waterways. That is why we work to create interesting volunteer opportunities aimed at a wide audience.
With families living and working on these boats, a unique culture developed which lived well into the 20th century.
Volunteers and old boats
Focused on the midlands' canals and rivers, volunteers are now the life blood of the working boats. These are the people working the events and crewing the boats of the fleet from place to place. They keep them in working order and spick and span. And they share their love of the waterway life with the people who will take care of them in the future.
Would you like to become a volunteer? All you need is a little (or a lot) of time, and an idea that you might enjoy the past, present or future of narrowboats. That's really it! We don't ask that you're an expert or a novice and we don't mind if you're young or old - we just want YOU.
Use the 'Find an Opportunity' to see which roles we're looking for closest to you. Most of these opportunities are focused around the midlands area.
Oil the cogs - our crew members are the cogs who make the wheels turn. We are looking for new volunteers to help move our fleet of historical working boats to various events across theMidlands. This involves working as part of a tight knit team to get the boats around the waterways to give members of the public an opportunity to see these marvellous craft. This involves day to day manning of the boats and polishing the brasses. Interested?
Backroom essentials - our small numbers of volunteers help administer the membership records of the group. This involves covering all aspects of the day to day administration of the group. Really important backroom work which helps make it all happen.
Lead the way - our Volunteer Skippers are instrumental to the movement of our fleet of historical working boats to numerous events across the Midlands. They lead a fantastic team to get the boats around the waterways to give members of the public an opportunity to see these marvellous craft. This role needs experience, man-management skills and a good understanding of the waterways.
Sharing passions - we are looking for keen events volunteers to help share the boats with local people at various venues across the Midlands. We want you to really be able to understand and feel the stories of these boats, the people, and the waterways. That's why we - and you, too, if you'd like - work to create opportunities for as wide an audience as possible and give them a real feel for what it was like to work these vessels all those years ago. If you are good at working with people (including children and families), then please contact us.
Spit and polish - we are looking for volunteers to help keep our historical fleet of working boats in the best working condition possible. It involves general maintenance of the boats, re-painting, repair work as necessary, brass cleaning, joinery, cleaning the cabin, rope work and re-blacking the bottom of boat.
Managing spit and polish - our volunteers to help keep our historical fleet of four vessels in the best working condition possible and to do this we are looking for a Volunteer Maintenance Planner. This involves planning an annual maintenance schedule for the fleet, dealing with ongoing maintenance issues and producing a rota of maintenance volunteers.
Telling the world - we are looking for a Volunteer to be instrumental in the promotion and recruitment of the Working Boats volunteers. This position will include the recruitment of new volunteers particularly in areas where skills are missing. Work as part of a team and use all opportunities possible to promote the activities of the HWB Group. If you have a background in promotions and marketing that would be great, if not well this may well be the place to start? Fancy it?
"I stumbled onto the Heritage Boats almost by accident following a visit to the British Waterways stand at the Inland Waterways Show at the NIA in 2001.
"On an impulse I filled in an enquiry card headed 'Become a BW Volunteer' and the rest is history as they say.
"Since then I have become increasingly involved, progressing from cleaning the brass to being responsible for moving a working pair. By far the most rewarding thing, however, is the new friendships I have made and the banter that goes with it together with the opportunity to enjoy our unique canal system."
"Shortly after moving to Birmingham in 2002 I discovered Friends of the Working Boats in a leaflet advertising social groups and clubs around Solihull, I couldn't believe my luck. I've been a fan of narrowboats and the canal system since taking family holidays in the 1980's, the first of which was on the Welsh canal on a 70 foot boat – no half-measures for us.
"The times I enjoy most are being on the move, hand on the tiller and cup of tea in hand or leaning on a lock, chatting with friends and watching the boat coming round a corner in the canal."
A bit of background
Following the success of Atlas, our first historical working boat, we attracted funding for three years from the Heritage Lottery Fund. This allowed us to save more ‘at risk’ working boats and set up projects to conserve, work and maintain the collection of traditional boats, and record the skills used for posterity. As well as to develope canal-focused community interpretation projects in order to encourage sustained interest in canals and canal heritage.
Looking to the future
As a result of the funding, we have since been able to secure the futures of many more heritage working boats. We have gathered a learned group of volunteers to restore and sail them, as well as promote the importance of the canal network in the UK. Our aim is now to build on these promising developments to ensure that the canals and their working boats are protected and understood for generations to come.
However, in order to meet our objectives we are constantly striving to find new ways in which the project can be sustainable. To this end we have rationalised the existing fleet and created fundraising, educational and volunteering opportunities for our fleet to preserve them for the future.
As you may know, the fleet began with the craft Atlas, but soon grew to a collection of 10 craft which - until recently - is how things remained. Our fleet includes two boats that are out of water – a Piling Rig which forms a static display (and children's playground) at Hatton Locks, Warwickshire, and an ice breaker called Birmingham which is on display at the Canal & River Trust yard at Tardebigge in Worcestershire.
At one point we felt we had to rationalise the fleet to ensure sustainability, and the decision was made to reduce our boat number by three. We made a list and checked it twice, and Atlas, Malus and Sagitta were found wanting. These boats are still about, though, not written off forever! Atlas and Malus are leased to the Birmingham Canals Navigation Society (BCNS) and Coombeswood Canal Trust (CCT) – two canal societies based in the heart of the Birmingham Canals Navigation (BCN).
This is our current fleet:
- Leo - 1930s cargo carrying butty (without a motor) boat
- Scorpio - 1930s cargo carrying motor boat
- Swift - 1930s cargo carrying motor boat
- Nansen II - tug boat
- Birmingham - tug boat (static at Tardbigge Wharf)
- The Piling Rig (static at Hatton Lock)