My experience as a technical volunteer

Sarah talks first-hand about her experience as a technical volunteer.

Sarah, our technical volunteer Sarah, our technical volunteer

This month I thought I would hand over to one of our fantastic (ex) volunteers, Sarah, who has just secured a role with us. She volunteered with the water management team and I thought it would be great to have someone else telling you about what it's like to volunteer with our technical teams, rather than me! Do check out our volunteering pages for more opportunities.

How did you hear about the opportunities with the Trust?

I visited an open day in Hatton in early 2015, mostly out of interest at seeing a drained lock, but also as I enjoy the outdoors. I met a few volunteers on the day, and they seemed very knowledgeable and enthusiastic so I left with a great impression. Around the same time I was studying a practical module for my part time BSc Environmental Science degree and was looking for opportunities to put my skills in to practice. So I looked on and saw that the Trust were looking for help with surveys – great timing, so I applied.

What attracted you to volunteer with us?

Apart from my experience at the open day I have always been naturally drawn to the canal environment, having grown up with the Grand Union Canal on my doorstep. I lived in a fairly urban area, so the canals were a great place to escape on foot or bike. I also hike a lot which often involves a mile or two along a canal.

Over the past couple of years I’ve seen the impact of Trust initiatives to make the canals feel more welcoming and attract more people to them, and felt it would be great to be more actively involved with this.

Also I am studying towards a BSc in Environmental Science and I am very interested in Hydrology. The Trust’s Water Management Team happens to be based in Hatton, just 6 miles from my home and they recruit volunteers so this was an extra incentive to get involved.

Tell us about your change of career

Several years ago I completed a degree in modern languages, and I’ve spent the last 10 years working in a career in HR, specialising in Resourcing. In 2011 I had the opportunity to work on a project about reducing my company’s carbon footprint, and found it very rewarding. So in my spare time I commenced a BSc Environmental Science with the Open University, which I am due to complete it in 2017. 

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to change careers at the time of signing up, but since completing a practical fieldwork module last year I knew that working more with complex data, and closer with our natural environment was a true passion.

How did you find the ‘recruitment’ process?

As a “recruiter by trade” myself I was very impressed by the whole process. Firstly that Amanda did not just consider me for the surveying work, but spotted an opportunity to connect me with the Water Management Team in Hatton.

Amanda happened to be in Hatton on the day I came in to meet the team, and she helped put me at ease. I was impressed that two senior members spent over an hour with me that day, introducing me to what the team does and how it fits in with the broader Trust strategy. They talked me through four different projects and asked questions about my background, experience and interests to ensure we could decide on the best project for me to get involved with.

After the meeting Amanda kept me well informed and supported me through the reference process. It was great to have her support, she was so enthusiastic and friendly.

What projects you have started to work on?

I supported the “Aquator Rollout” hydraulic/hydrological modelling project. The Trust is replacing its existing modelling software with Aquator, and using it to model/predict the baseline water resource positions relative to the Trust’s strategic Level of Service for most hydrological units (a key part of the Trust’s Water Resources strategy).

Having never done any hydrological modelling before I was both excited and terrified, but was soon highly motivated as I was given a hydrological unit of my own to model (the Huddersfield Narrow Canal). I supported the project by coming onsite on Tuesday mornings each week, and always came away having learnt more technical skills e.g. using GIS to draw a schematic or calculating abstractions and deciding if they should be included. I’m continuing to work on this project as an employee.

How you would rate the experience overall, would you recommend volunteering to others?  

The experience has been fantastic. The initial recruitment and induction process was superior to others that I’ve experienced as an actual employee elsewhere. My task manager (David Mould) ensured I developed a full understanding of the Trust’s values and vison from day one, and that I received all of the relevant H&S training. He spent quality time with me each week, helping me to develop my technical skills, and was always very happy to support me via phone and e-mail. With David’s support everything became less overwhelming very quickly.

The whole Water Management team were also very welcoming and friendly. They made it clear that my work was truly valuable to them, and it was great to be invited to their monthly team meetings and social events. Plus everyone always took time out to chat to me when I was in the office.

I would thoroughly recommend the Canal & River TRust as a place to volunteer to others, and look forward to supporting/welcoming others that wish to do volunteer work with us in the future too.


Last date edited: 26 February 2016

About this blog

Volunteer coordinator

Amanda is a volunteer coordinator for the Technical Team within the Trust. Whether it’s finding a student for a long-term placement with the environment team or assisting the hydrology team with a team of volunteers to count boat movements, she can be counted on to find the right people for the role. Amanda joined the Trust in July 2012 and previously worked as the Volunteer Leader in the East Midlands. She has worked at other charities in people engagement roles, but is at her happiest besides the water.

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