Play your part in the second Golden Age of canals

Community spirit is alive and well on the nation’s canals with record numbers of people volunteering.

Volunteers picking plastics and litter from the canal bed Volunteers picking plastics and litter from the canal bed

To meet the growing demand from people to spend time helping to care for our waterways across England and Wales, we are expanding the number and range of volunteering roles that we offer: everything from the iconic lock keeper to teaching children about water safety; from inspiring youngsters to take up fishing to supporting our wide range of professional teams.

Richard Parry, chief executive at Canal & River Trust, said: “As we enter a new year, and a new decade, we are delighted that so many people want to support the Canal & River Trust and make a difference to their local community.

Helping local communities

“On the waterways, community spirit is very much alive and well, with our canals and river navigations at the heart of such a diverse variety of villages, towns and cities across England & Wales. And, with so many ways to get involved, 2020 can be a year when more people take positive action for their local canal, for their community, and – because we know that volunteering and spending time outdoors, by water, is good for wellbeing – for themselves.”

In 2019 we saw record numbers of people volunteer 671,000 hours of their time to the waterways. There was a 27% increase in the number of volunteer lock keepers across the network, to 1,130, and the first volunteer to record a staggering 10,000 hours of volunteering time since the charity’s formation in 2012. 

Feel happier and healthier

Richard continues: “With more boats on the nation’s canals than at the height of the Industrial Revolution, and research showing that spending time by water helps people feel happier and healthier, it’s a great time to discover Britain’s waterways. 

“Far from being industrial relics or unloved backwaters, the dedicated efforts of thousands of volunteers have made canals the heart of the communities they run through. And with a remarkable 50% of the population living within five miles of a canal or river navigation, they are perfectly placed to provide free, accessible, natural environments where everyone can come to unwind and to embrace a happier and healthier lifestyle.”

In 2020 Canal & River Trust is building on the popularity of waterways volunteering by creating an even wider range of volunteer roles.  Opportunities include:

  • Volunteer lock keepers and towpath rangers

Volunteer lock keepers and towpath rangers offer a friendly welcome to visitors and boaters and help people get to know their local canal. The Trust is offering more flexibility in terms of time commitment and scope of these ever-popular and iconic roles, with some positions still available in a few spots across the country.

  • Education volunteers

Volunteers work with schools to teach pupils about water safety and anything and everything canal-related, inspiring the next generation of waterway-lovers.  They can also take part in running activities on the towpath, at canal festivals, and local fairs.

  • Let’s activity volunteers

Volunteers for the Trust’s Let’s Fish programme help host hundreds of free learn-to-fish events for all the family.  The Trust is building its Let’s activity programme and there will be further opportunities, for example walk leaders, throughout the year.

  • National Waterway Museums and attractions

The Trust’s three museums as well as iconic attractions such as the World Heritage Site at Pontcysyllte Aqueduct or Standedge Tunnel - the longest, highest and deepest canal tunnel – all offer volunteer opportunities.

  • Towpath Taskforce

Towpath Taskforces are flexible opportunities for volunteers to come along whenever they’re free, whether that’s once a month or more regularly.  Tasks can include lock-painting, hedge-planting, weeding gardens, litter-clearance from land and water, repairing towpaths and more – depending on what’s most needed in that area.

Richard concludes: “The arteries of Britain’s Industrial Revolution, the waterways were once in danger of being forgotten about when the demand for waterborne freight declined. We owe a debt to the hard-working volunteers who helped to save them. It’s heartening to see this passion for the waterways continue, as a new generation of volunteers continues to give us its support. Our passionate volunteers have helped our charity to achieve so much and, with the waterways busier than ever before, we are enjoying a second Golden Canal Age, their benefit to people everywhere now firmly established.”