We love and care for your canals and rivers, because everyone deserves a place to escape.

James Brearley

James Brearley started out as a joinery apprentice and is now a senior bridge inspector with 25 years experience of caring for our canals and rivers.

View down River Aire towards Leeds City Centre with moored boats, white bridge and city buildings in background Leeds City Centre, River Aire, courtesy of smoilsd, Flickr

25 years ago I was working as a shop-fitter in Leeds, but I was unhappy with the pay and working conditions and this prompted me to look elsewhere. As luck happens, British Waterways (now the Trust) had advertised for a joinery apprentice to work on the Aire & Calder Navigation in the Evening Post. I applied by letter and was invited for interview a short time after. Throughout my childhood I had enjoyed numerous boating holidays and always had a keen interest in the canals.

Job title: senior bridge inspector

Length of service: 25 years

Apprenticeship details: City & Guilds Carpentry & Joinery + Advanced Craft (followed by further studies)

Training provider: Leeds College of Building and Leeds Met University

"I hope our current apprentices feel a sense of achievement and appreciate working in such a fantastic environment." James Brearley

It didn’t take me long to get settle it and the entire company had a homely, comforting feel to it – very secure. In fact I remember being told that career progression was possible as long as I kept up with my studies and continued to work hard. This helped empower me.  

Work varied on a day-to-day basis. I used to skipper the boat for a time to enable the engineers to inspect the Yorkshire region and I worked in Stanley Ferry repair yard for several years as a young apprentice making lock gates. Generally, though, I worked on the canal bank with the Aire & Calder team, doing general repairs, lock keeping and so on. I have numerous funny stories but most can’t be repeated here.

I hope our current apprentices feel a sense of achievement and appreciate working in such a fantastic environment. I also hope they recognise that if they put the work in, there are opportunities within the Trust. We have a diverse skill-set and the people here are always happy to help new starters on their journey.

Last date edited: 3 March 2017