Ways to volunteer
We aim to offer a wide range of volunteering opportunities to suit you, so you can choose to give as little or as much time as you want in a location that suits - whether it be from your home, by or on the water or in a Canal & River Trust office.
We have opportunities for volunteers to work on their own or with a group of other Canal & River Trust volunteers, at the weekends and/or during the week.
- Moving, looking after and promoting our historic working boats
- Towpath Taskforce regular practical days
- Education Explorer volunteers
- Volunteer Lock keepers
- Lead Volunteers
For all of these, use the Opportunity search to find the closest opportunity to you.
Full and short term opportunities
There are no fixed times for which we want people to volunteer although we may organise rotas or specific days to do tasks in the most efficient, customer-friendly or safe way. We aim to offer a range of opportunities from one-off tasters through to longer term 'full time' volunteering.
- A taster one off opportunity: these opportunities are generally a case of turning up and getting involved on the day - our Towpath Taskforce days are a great example of this.
- A more regular relationship possibly with higher levels of responsibility where specific training is needed to deliver the task. This could be once a month, once a week or even on a full time basis.
There is no time commitment when volunteering. We request that if the Canal & River Trust is relying on you and you can't fulfil the commitment you give us as much notice as possible. In order for both you and the Trust to get the most out of the opportunity, it may be best to offer, for example, at least 1 day per week. This will depend on the role and is best discussed with us.
Read our interview with David Lewis, regular volunteer with Towpath Taskforce in Selby
Read our interview with Robert Bullock, regular volunteer with Towpath Taskforce in Stoke
Publicity and promotions
How many people know that we have canals and river navigations around the country but don't know where they are, why they're there or how they can enjoy them?
Volunteers help at public events, helping to build an understanding of why the canals and river navigations are so important to the nation and local communities. Through giving presentations you connect groups and individuals with the waterways. This is also a good way to recruit other volunteers!
You can help promote the waterways in many other ways: working with press, blogging, developing and maintaining websites, co-ordinating activities that connect local communities with their waterway and producing/distributing leaflets are some examples.
Read our interview with Jon Stopp, volunteer adoption inspirer...amongst other things!
In the office
It's not all about getting your hands dirty and knowing everything about boats and locks. The waterway needs the physical fabric looking after which entails a lot of behind the scenes support, planning, research and promotion.
The Canal & River Trust is developing office based roles for people who may not feel that they can do the physical work, have no interest in practical activities or have office-based skills to give. These tasks could involve anything from updating information on our GIS system to data entry or researching waterway heritage in library archives. Some tasks could even be done from home.
Through your workplace or community
The Canal & River Trust has a successful adoption scheme in which you can adopt a section of canal through your workplace, whether this is a small business or a large corporate office, or even just though a local community group. Read more about our adoption schemes.
Read more about the Buckingham Canal Society and their canal adoption scheme
Practical conservation and survey work
Waterways always need practical maintenance, development and restoration. This means being outside and getting some physical exercise. It does not always mean shovels, pick axes and litter pickers but it can mean using trowels, brushes and measuring equipment for archaeological digs; piling logs to make an otter holt; using chainsaws and strimmers to clear the heavier overgrowth; wearing waders to plant reads.
A great way to get a taster of this is through our annual Towpath Tasks activities. These happen on a monthly basis all around the country and can be found by searching for practical volunteering in our search pages.
Volunteer Lock Keepers
Lock keepers have been a fixture on Britain’s canals for hundreds of years. While some duties remain the same, today’s lock keepers don’t have as difficult a time as their early predecessors who had to haul heavy lock gates open by hand, defend themselves against river pirates and fight off toll thieves. The role of the volunteer lock keeper is now to provide a polite and friendly welcome to waterway visitors, assist boaters through locks and help maintain the lock area. Find out more here.
Our Explorer volunteer team lead the work that we do with school groups. Many schools visit the 2,000 mile waterway network. Volunteers can help us make these visits even better. Working with schools is a great way to understand what young people think of their local canal and help spread the message about safe use of their local waterway.
Working with schools isn't always as scary as some people think that it is - in fact it can be great fun listening to the comments that young children make. For example, "Did you know that towpaths are called that because the horses walked on their toes?"
Volunteering in education can be as simple as helping children on and off a boat, through to leading a workshop in a classroom. While safety is the watchword, it's more of a learning opportunity than a barrier.
A Lead Volunteer does what it says on the tin, they lead volunteers. We offer additional training to support planning and leadership, and our applicants have varying levels of pre-existing skills. Some come to us with huge amounts of experience, some have very little but are looking for opportunities for personal development.
In This Section »
Towpath TaskforceTowpath Taskforce groups are for like-minded people who want to get involved, get their hands dirty and make a difference to their local canal or river.
Milton Keynes Canal Clean-UpJoin the Milton Keynes Branch of the Inland Waterways Association and the Canal & River Trust for one of the biggest Canal Clean-Up events in the country.