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The Avon Vale volunteers

The Avon Vale workboat volunteers have been helping out with maintenance and other varied tasks along the Kennet & Avon Canal since 2010. Read more about how they restored the Avon Vale, why they enjoy working on the boat whatever the weather, and whether you could join their crew.

The Avon Vale work boat volunteers The Avon Vale work boat volunteers
"We enjoy the social side of things and each other’s company. We’re a very diverse group." John Kirby, volunteer

The background

The Avon Vale is a former British Waterways workboat built in 1983 and operational until 2003. In 2008 she was partially submerged near Bath top lock on the Kennet & Avon Canal when a group of volunteers stepped in, restored her and gave her a new lease of life.

The Avon Vale is now operated by these trained volunteers under the authority of the Trust. She is used as a work platform for bank-clearing, maintenance and to transport equipment along the canal. 

Who are the Avon Vale volunteers?

John Kirby, Rod Hannah, Adrian Softley, John Peters, Eric Argent and Pete Jordan have been involved with the project since it first began. They are all committed to working on the Avon Vale every Monday, planning the rest of their week in around this.

They also run the Avon Vale 100 Club to help fund the boat.

The Avon Vale story

Back in 2008, John Kirby, Eric Argent, Adrian Softley and Pete Jordan were all members of the same boat club in Devizes. They were keen to do something to improve the state of the off-side vegetation on the Kennet & Avon Canal, so John approached British Waterways to ask about restoring the Avon Vale for this purpose.

"We care. We all care. Otherwise we wouldn’t be doing it.” John Kirby

British Waterways agreed, giving them five years to restore the boat. The Avon Vale was listed as a ‘historic boat’, so the volunteers had to carefully restore her back to her original condition using the exact paint colours and all. Thankfully someone in British Waterways had kept all of the Avon Vale’s original documentation, so they had something to refer back to. 

The boat was up and running just 18 months later, thanks in part to all the help the volunteers received from various people.

Why do they do it?

John Kirby says:

“We enjoy the social side of things and each other’s company. We’re a very diverse group. The canal brought us together. We’d never have met otherwise.

“Sometimes we think we’re getting too old for all this. When we’re out in the snow or the rain, we think ‘what on earth are we doing?’ Sometimes I think we come along for the banter.”

He adds: “Actually we come because we care. We all care. Otherwise we wouldn’t be doing it.”

Proud moments

The Avon Vale has been on a very varied journey since she was taken over by the volunteers. In 2010 she was used to transport Wadworth’s ‘K&A 200’ anniversary beer to the Bridge Inn at Horton and appeared on the TV news. In 2012 the Avon Vale volunteers were awarded Runners-up in the Volunteering category of the Waterways Renaissance Awards at the ICC in Birmingham. Then, in 2014, the Avon Vale attended the visit of HRH Princess Anne to Devizes Wharf to present the ‘Volunteer of the Year’ Award to the K&A Canal Trust.

“But probably our proudest moment was when we had finished restoring the boat and set out to do our first job,” John recalls.

And low moments? No, they don’t have any of those!

Could you get involved?

Now the volunteers are looking for more people to get involved, who can take the Avon Vale out on other days of the week when she’s not currently in use. As John says:

“There’s always more to do and the boat could work harder!”

Last date edited: 20 June 2016