School's out for winter!

Let’s begin with affection and a little nostalgia. The end of the volunteer lock keeper season has arrived and it’s been the biggest and best year yet!

Two volunteer lock keepers stood by a lock Volunteer lock keepers at Braunston

This year we had 148 students, I mean volunteer lock keepers, giving their time to assist boaters through lock flights, managing and saving water and being a friendly face to all canal users. 

Some go extra-curricular and assist bank staff with their work, or mow the grass, paint the locks, or help move work boats.  It really is a superb collective effort from them and I can’t help but feel incredibly proud of them all.

2,739 days

This year they have clocked up a record breaking 2,739 days (7.5 years or 14.5 school years) worth of volunteering and this is a conservative effort as timesheets are still coming in!  A huge THANK YOU to all the volunteer lock keepers at Napton, Hillmorton, Foxton, Buckby, Braunston, Watford, Stoke Bruerne, Soulbury 3 Locks and Marsworth.

Banbury Canal Day is the last festival of the season and one of my favourite class outings. This year’s theme was the rainbow, so bright colours were everywhere and the atmosphere was just as bright.  We had a big Trust presence here, accompanied by a work boat full of canal pickings such as bikes and trolleys which was

a great attraction all day.

Later in the month, star pupils Banbury Canal Partnership spread 6 tonnes of gravel to fill potholes in Banbury centre.  This was a super project as we were assisted by volunteer Helmsmen who brought the gravel via work boat.  This saved a lot of wheel-barrowing and was very efficient!

Youth group, milton keynes

On the Grand Union in Milton Keynes, children from the Hindu Youth Group undertook a litter pick for Sewa Day. This is a day where you give without thought of recompense, but what a good day they had!  Supervised by our own John Highmore and lead volunteer Philip Strangeway, the group found lots of litter south of Fenny Stratford.  Thank you!

Gold star to Friends of Fenny Stratford who were also out in Milton Keynes this month.  They painted lock beams, tended to the garden and cleared around the new hedge whips which have done well in their 2nd year.

Milton Keynes really did get attention this month with the IWA clean-up happening as well! Supported by Wyvern Shipping, this 2-day event is in its 28th year and is as successful as ever.  With a convoy of boats, including a hopper and pan for the rubbish and a dredger for the large items, dozens of volunteers set to removing all discarded items from towpath & water from Fenny Stratford to Wolverton.  10 out of 10 for all their hard work!  Read the newspaper article here.

Just south of Milton Keynes in Leighton Buzzard, prefects Wyvern Shipping and Friends of Leighton Lock were busy painting the 25 bollards and sign at the Tesco moorings. They also installed four extra bollards on the south side of Leighton lock. 

Our adoption group at Fenny Compton on the Oxford Canal are top of the class by keeping up the pressure again this month.  Butterfly Conservation Warwickshire have been out mowing and undertaking light scrub clearance of the site to preserve it as grassland for the exceptional butterfly population here. Top marks all!

Share the Space

The canals are somewhere that people from all schools of thought can enjoy themselves and the Trust actively encourages this. Sometimes though, the multi-use of the towpath can cause conflict, so this month, we employed the help of Apsley Cubs & Beavers to spread the word about our national Share the Space, Drop your Pace campaign.

Armed with flyers, questionnaires, signs and litter pickers, more than 40 cubs and beavers did a great job of spreading the message on two evenings, asking towpath users for their experiences and having a blitz on litter.  This is a great campaign to encourage all users on the towpath to be respectful of others and give way – “Be More Tortoise”!  Find out more here.

Teacher’s pet, Braunston Canal Society set sail for offside vegetation clearance this month. With a boat and hand tools, the group made short work of overgrown trees and shrubs on the offside above the bottom lock.  This will surely benefit all boaters passing through this pound, not least the dry dock users who now have much easier access!  In return for their hard work, Union Canal Carriers kindly disposed of the cuttings. Read more and see the photos here. Great team work!

Stoke Bruerne Canal Partnership are top of the class after a busy month installing their new interpretation boards at every available opportunity!  Made by Bob the Blacksmith and assisted by IWA Northampton, workboat Sculptor and Canal & River Trust’s Neil Cave, the group got the installation of them onto concrete pads looking as easy as ABC!  All twelve are now in situ and they look fantastic.  Top marks for effort!

For those of you who know Kathryn Doddington from Stoke Bruerne Canal Partnership, you may be interested in her latest blog keeping you updated of her progress following her fall last week. Get well soon Kathryn!

An A for effort for Aylesbury Arm Towpath Taskforcers who had numbers boosted by Tring Anglers’ members this month.  It was all hands on deck to clear the offside of lock 16 to discourage anti-social behaviour.  This overgrown and forgotten corner is now exposed to daylight but will require more work over the winter before it looks presentable – more hands always welcome!

Before & after

IWA Northampton are making the grade with the last mow of season at Lock 17 (which looks better than it ever has!) and deep litter pick (7 trolleys, 2 bikes & 24 bags full).  They’ve also begun on their winter works of clearing the by-weirs at each of the 17 locks as part of Canal & River Trust’s Planned Preventative Maintenance (PPM).  This is of huge benefit to the local Canal & River Trust team who say “Many thanks to you and the team, the work you have done has really made a great difference”, so thank you IWA! See their photos here.

Oxford Towpath Taskforce continues to arouse great interest with another graffiti busting task day led by Diana Loureiro. Concentrating again on Welton Well Bridge which is blighted with paint, and also a thorough litter pick of the area.

Wendover Arm Trust are busy as ever re-lining the Wendover Arm in Buckinghamshire. Read their interesting monthly report here.

Eager beavers Buckingham Canal Society are also going great guns with the restoration of the Buckingham Arm from Cosgrove to Buckingham.  Here’s group leader Athina’s report of their last task day: 

“Our volunteers were joined by an Explorer Scout for a very enjoyable day despite the rain!  The Explorer Scout loved every minute of it and at the end of the day wanted to take home two loose bricks she had found, one from the original bridge building and a more recent one so that she could carry out her own research about the way the Navvies worked and provided their own hand made bricks.  The group worked on the second bridge on the Buckingham Canal exploring what remains of this bridge which appears to be quite a lot.  More work here is planned for future work parties.”

Sounds like a very interesting excavation you have there.  Well done Athina & all!

Our fabulous Stoppage Open Days are happening again this year.  A show of hands please if you’ve been to one?!  For those of you who have not, they take the opportunity of a lock being drained for repairs, then have a show and tell for the general public with tours. These are really popular events and it is fascinating to see an alternative perspective of a lock – from the bottom!  This winter, the South East Waterway is hosting two, Banbury (Oxford Canal) on 5th & 6th December, and Stoke Bruerne (GU Canal) on 13th & 14th February.  Pop them in your diaries now and watch this video to be enthused.

Now for some homework for you all...  Whilst you’re on our website, have a browse – we’ve updated it so it should be far easier and more pleasurable to use.

There goes the school bell, you are excused for another month.  I'm off to mark papers and wish you all a fun-filled November.

Last date edited: 1 August 2016

About this blog

Volunteer leader

Every month, dozens of groups and individuals give up their time to help make the canals a nicer place for everyone to enjoy. From hauling trolleys out of the water to lock keeping and giving tours of empty locks, our volunteers are an amazing asset and well worth celebrating.

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