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How volunteering can turn your life around

Jake volunteers regularly along the Grantham Canal. His involvement with the waterways and his experience of working in a volunteer team has literally turned his life around. Read Jake’s inspirational story.

Jake, volunteer on the Grantham Canal Jake, volunteer on the Grantham Canal
"I’ve gained experience, real training, a feeling of acceptance and self-worth." Jake

Volunteering can change lives, and being near water is proven to aid well-being. You can find a volunteer opportunity on a canal near you on our volunteer pages.

The background

As a child Jake was diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum, but very mildly. He benefitted from fantastic support at school, but after leaving school found himself in a difficult situation. His academic difficulties made finding a path tricky – yet the mild nature of his diagnosis conversely meant that he didn’t fit in at college with young adults who had more serious needs.

Then Jake moved with his Mum (Mo) from Nottingham to a village near Melton Mowbray. Although this was a nicer environment for him, the move actually made things more difficult for Jake as he felt like a fish out of water in unfamiliar surroundings.

At 20 years old Jake was adrift. As well as suffering from low mood and anxiety, Jake also got into an unhealthy cycle of not eating well, not sleeping well, going to bed late and getting up late. He spent a lot of time on his own and, despite their best efforts, his family could not help him break out of this circle.


One day Jake picked up a leaflet for the Grantham Canal Restoration Society (GCRS). It caught his interest and he told his Mum that he would like to go and help out. Mo made a phone call and then took Jake along the very next weekend. This was the start of Jake’s upward journey. He loved volunteering with the GCRS right from the very start. The people were kind, helpful and welcoming. Jake felt as if he fitted in.

After Jake’s first weekend volunteering, the GCRS got in touch and told Jake that if he would like to get more involved he could also volunteer at Lock 15 with the Grantham Canal Society. Jake met Mark Owen, the site manager, did a safety induction and has never looked back.

Life-changing experience

Jake says: “I’ve gained experience, real training, a feeling of acceptance and self-worth. Most importantly, I’ve gained confidence. I’ve found a real place within the team, both with the restoration society and at Lock 15.”

"It's literally a miracle. If I’d tried to manufacture a situation I could not have imagined anything better." Mo

Jake volunteering at Lock 15, Grantham CanalOn site at Lock 15 Jake now gets involved with mixing cement and concrete, brick-laying, site-clearance and security. He goes in five days a week, whatever the weather, often cycling there and back nearly 20 miles a day.

Jake adds: “In the past I had difficulty finding a place and accessing a real lifestyle with realistic goals. This has provided fulfilment.”

Mo says that her son is a ‘different man’. His anxiety has gone, his low mood has gone. He benefits from a healthy routine, getting up early, eating regularly and spending lots of time in the great outdoors.

At the weekends Jake also volunteers for the Grantham Canal Restoration Society, driving the boat, helping to fundraise, maintaining the boats and getting involved with clearance.  He’s also worked at Open Days selling tickets.

“It’s literally a miracle,” says Mo. “If I’d tried to manufacture a situation I could not have imagined anything better.”

She describes the volunteer team as being like a second family for Jake, all very supportive and inclusive.

And most importantly of all, Jake is now happy.

Our thanks to Jake, Mo, Ian Wakefield, Mark Owen and everyone at both the Grantham Canal Society and the Grantham Canal Restoration Society for their part in this story.

Last date edited: 7 July 2016