Sally helps children discover the Kennet & Avon Canal

Four years ago, retired primary school teacher Sally Hodnett began working with our Explorers education volunteers at Crofton and later became a volunteer lock keeper.

Sally (centre) aboard The Admiral welcome boat Sally (centre) aboard The Admiral welcome boat

I’m a ‘natural’ teacher in that I have a passion for passing on knowledge and encouraging children to question and use their learning. I love it when you capture their attention and whip up enthusiasm, and there is so much to tell about the canals, from how and why canals were built to how locks work.

My husband Chris is a canal enthusiast and had always wanted to be a volunteer lock keeper when he retired. It was while looking at the Canal & River Trust website that he came across the Explorers section. I’d been retired for three months and he suggested that I get involved with them.

We live in Thatcham and Chris is a lock keeper at Crofton and Newbury. I do a little supply work in a local school but spend most of my time volunteering. The Trust is developing activities that we can deliver for the STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and maths – which will be brilliant.

Giving water safety talks

Last year I delivered water safety assemblies to schools and groups such as Beavers and Rainbows. I took it on because it can be daunting for volunteers to be confronted by hundreds of children when you’re not used to it. However, I prefer giving talks to individual classes, so that the children have more opportunities to participate and interact.

I love helping children discover the waterways as each one is unique and offers an effective way to bring learning to life. For example, children visit Crofton Pumping Station where they learn how the old beam engines raise water from Wilton Water to the canal summit just above Lock 55.

Boat trips with KACT

At Newbury, we hook up with the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust and take children on their boat ‘Jubilee’. We study the canal map and identify buildings alongside the waterway. We also take them through the lock and turn the boat.

Three years ago, Chris persuaded me to join him in lock keeping at Crofton and I’m also a qualified deckhand on the ‘Nelson’ workboat and help with cutting back canal-side vegetation.

On top of this Chris and I devote two days a month to visiting all the Urbis Boards between Devizes and County Lock in Reading, updating all the notices and giving them a bit of a clean-up.

Both Chris and I volunteer with the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust, crewing on ‘Jubilee’. He is currently undertaking Boatmaster training. I’m also on the committee of the local branch.

Narrowboat holidays

Holiday are spent afloat - we’ve got a share in a narrowboat and can use if for four weeks a year. This keeps the costs down and extends our love of the canals. We often walk the towpath with our dogs and enjoy watching the wildlife and changing seasons.

I enjoy still being able to use my teaching skills without having to do all the relentless paperwork that goes with it. It keeps me active and my mind busy and I like meeting new people. Having spent a lifetime mixing mostly with teachers, it’s great to know people outside the profession.

Canal & River Trust is looking to recruit Education Volunteers. Do you love working with children and would like to encourage them to explore our canals and rivers? If so, please visit our explorers volunteers pages.

Last date edited: 14 June 2018