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The charity making life better by water

Meet our boating staff

Meet some of our boating staff and volunteers here at the Trust, learn more about what their day-to-day looks like and what they enjoy most about their roles.

Staff and Volunteers on the new work boat in Bath
Sean Williams, national welfare officer

Working within the boating customer service team, my role and the type of work I do can be quite varied and often challenging. I work as closely as I can with local teams to make sure that we can help, identify and support people that need that extra level of care, and manage the more complex situations.

The level of support is very much individually tailored to the situation and can include things like financial or health concerns. We look at what support options are available, what we can do and we signpost people accordingly.

I collaborate with specialist support agencies such as Bristol's Julian House, and national organisations like the Waterways Chaplaincy, which has a specific focus on boaters. These and other partnerships and multi-agency groups work really well, helping us in promoting boaters' wellbeing.

Crucial to the success of supporting people is working with my boating colleagues when assessing the need for equality adjustments. We want to empower people with protected characteristics to be able to continue enjoying our canals to the best of their abilities.

I also sit within our central safeguarding team and offer support and guidance with any boating safeguarding concerns. I review our training, policies and practices, often linking up with local authorities to ensure that vulnerability concerns are raised appropriately.

Nathan Arries, licensing ranger, North West and West Midlands

My area covers the Llangollen, Montgomery, Staffordshire & Worcester and Shropshire Union (Middlewich branch) canals, and the Weaver Navigation. I am part of a team of 11, which includes a supervisor, 4 licence support officers and 6 other licensing rangers.

We're often the first point of contact, not just for boaters, but anglers, walkers and all towpath users, in fact. Our aim is to provide a wide range of support and information whilst carrying out our daily duties. Sometimes we experience anti-social behaviour. Sometimes we encounter someone with a vulnerability, which we highlight to the licensing officers so that they can provide further support. We have been trained to ensure we address data protection as well as equality, whilst providing and collating information.

No two days are the same, and although my job involves ‘lone working', our safety takes priority. We use the Crisys call system as well as a buddying system with a colleague. We arrange lifts and drop off points to ensure that we both finish together. We cover the lengths either cycling or by foot. At some times of the year our towpaths can be muddy, but the summer months are a delight. I walk an average of 10 miles a day, which means my whole patch is covered within a 14-day period. Walking in the rain and snow is pretty miserable, but there are so many beautiful locations we walk through, experiencing wildlife and ancient structures, especially on the Montgomery and Llangollen canals.

Liam Cooper, boating and customer service manager, North West

I work closely with the area operations managers and their teams across the North West, as well as a wide variety of other teams and external stakeholders.

As an experienced boater and coming from a consumer-focused background, I am passionate about delivering the best possible service to our customers every time that they contact us. I support the regional director and his teams in delivering service excellence.

The best, and often the most challenging, aspect of the role is that no two days are the same. You never know what the next new problem is going to be. Job satisfaction comes each day from knowing that customer expectations have been met, and preferably exceeded.

Georgina Wood, business boating manager, South, West and Central

A boat used for any purpose other than private leisure use will fall into one of the business licence categories. Business boating customers include hire and passenger boat operators, moorings and marina businesses, static businesses based on boats, and roving traders. We provide advice and information to both existing and prospective business boating customers, enabling them to make informed decisions about starting or expanding their business.

We act as an account manager for all the business customers in our allocated geographical area, working closely with the estate and technical managers. This involves providing information to new applicants, assessing new applications and identifying what they require from us in order to set up their business. We work closely with our estates team colleagues to support customers who also require a lease, licence or network agreement.

We provide colleagues across many disciplines with advice and support on business boating, on matters such as events, planning applications, and customer and stakeholder meetings.

We're also responsible for effectively managing, promoting and developing business opportunities that contribute to the organisation's aims to increase the number of people using the waterways, whilst protecting the integrity of the network.

Liz Sollars, licence support officer, West Midlands

Licence fees are really important to the orgnisation, contributing 10% of our income. I also make sure that continuous cruisers adhere to the guidelines. Much of my role involves dealing with boaters or members of the public and answering queries or trying to resolve issues. However, if after much mediation boaters fail to comply with their licence terms and conditions, it may mean that we have to take them to court and ultimately we may seize their boat. Our main tool is our power under Section 8 of the British Waterways Act to remove boats if they remain there without permission or are persistently in breach of the licence terms and conditions. However, this is very much a last resort.

We are increasingly seeing many vulnerable boaters suffering ill health or financial hardship. Once I have identified boaters with such needs, I work with them to ascertain whether they might need an adjustment to their cruising pattern, if they're continuous cruisers living on their craft, or if they need financial or pastoral support. With their consent I may refer them to the Waterway Chaplains, who offer care and support to those living on the UK's waterways. Additionally, we have the support of our in-house welfare officer, Sean Williams.

Often we are the first point of contact for many boaters or members of the public and answer a diverse range of queries. However, after 18 years in this role I still enjoy the challenges that the position brings and feel privileged that I have been able to work for such an esteemed organisation.

Peter Foale, volunteer lock keeper, East Midlands

Boaters and their boats come in all shapes and sizes, with huge differences in their level of experience and ability to handle their boats. The mood of the river can change from day to day, so keeping in touch with fellow lock keepers up and down the river and giving boaters the level of support they need to be safe on the water is as important as actually operating the locks for them.

Apart from this, there are essential routine checks on the locks and the wider lock sites to be carried out, to keep everything working properly. There are also queries from boaters and the passing general public to be dealt with and, very occasionally, differences of opinion between boaters to be resolved.

A wet Tuesday in October can sometimes feel like a long day, but there is a lot of satisfaction to be gained from a busy day helping 30 or 40 boats through your lock with the minimum of fuss and delay, getting the thanks of grateful boaters and, best of all, finding a can of beer on the side of the lock as a little thank you.

Dean Davies, head of direct services

The 300-person department I lead is largely responsible for construction work and the team are all employees. We are like an internal contracting service. We undertake the majority of the heritage-based repairs and all the lock gate replacements around the network. Each winter we replace between 130 and 160 lock gate leaves between November and March. So the quietest time as far as canal usage is concerned is our busiest time of the year. We have a very skilled and experienced team of carpenters, bricklayers and masons undertaking the work in a sensitive and considerate manner.

Supporting this work I also have responsibility for two lock gate manufacturing workshops at Bradley in the West Midlands and Stanley Ferry near Wakefield. These workshops use traditional methods to build all the lock gates that the construction team install. I also manage the team who look after our workboat fleet, making sure those boats are serviced, maintained and refurbished.

My enthusiasm and love of the canals has never diminished over the 25 years that I've been helping to care for them. The sense of achievement and satisfaction in keeping our historic waterway network working gives me a great deal of pleasure. Add in the environment, the variety of work and most importantly the people that I meet through my work, and you have the perfect combination.

Kathryn Smith, principle hydrologist, Central and North

The most high-profile project I have supported is the Toddbrook Reservoir incident. This work was very intense but clearly important and very interesting. To help our boating community continue to enjoy the Peak Forest Canal I have been working hard to maximise water supply from the Toddbrook catchment. I have also worked with our regulator, the Environment Agency (EA), to solve water supply issues.

Over the last 18 months, I have contributed to the 155 water abstraction licences that we have submitted to the EA. These licences will regulate our abstractions [water taken from natural sources], which is a requirement of changing government legislation. The next 24 months is critical as we enter the period where these applications will be determined by the EA. Our team may need to work hard in order to ensure that our abstractions are protected in some places where there are water stresses in the environment. It's going to be a challenging time, but an exciting one all the same. Receiving our first surface water abstraction licences will be a momentous occasion in our history, which will hopefully enable us to celebrate security of water supply for many years to come.

My team also takes a balanced view and assesses each new marina proposal based on water availability, while trying to support new developments. Marinas need to be located in places where they won't cause water supply problems for existing boaters through decreasing the amount of time our canals can stay open. We also undertake flood risk assessments to weigh up the risk and identify any mitigations required before new discharges, some of which can bring us significant revenue, can be accepted into the canal. Our team are also progressing water transfer schemes with a number of water companies, which will not only bring in a huge revenue but also secure a more robust future supply of water to some canals.

One of my most important challenges is to strike a balance between maintaining progress around strategic work, such as our emerging Flood Risk Strategy, and water resource projects. An example of the latter is investigating the feasibility of increased water supply into the future and driving down canal water losses, while supporting our regional teams to optimise water resource usage. This is particularly important during times when resources are scarce.

The start to the 2020 boating season was not only impacted by government restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, but also an exceptionally dry period. May 2020 was the driest and sunniest May and spring was the fifth driest spring on record for the UK. This created a huge water resource impact across our canals, particularly in the north-west of England, which we carefully managed to support our boating community as best we could. We maintained a high level of communication, in writing and also at face-to-face and virtual meetings.

Last Edited: 01 December 2022

photo of a location on the canals
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