Celebrating the efforts of volunteer groups

People volunteer for many different reasons. For some, it's the desire to make a difference, improve the lives of others, and give something back to their community.

Volunteers working hard on a sunny April afternoon. Volunteers working hard on a sunny April afternoon.

For others it's a way to improve their own lives, gain new skills, make new friends and even a way to push outside of their comfort zone. 

Whatever the motivation, a good volunteer opportunity is rewarding for everyone involved.

Every day, throughout all seasons, volunteer groups assemble to work on restoring parts of the canal network that have fallen into disrepair over the past century. From desk-based volunteer roles like writing funding applications and managing our social media pages, to working outside digging along the canal (and eating cake!), there are a range of opportunities to suit everyone.

But there is one similarity between all roles. They all have a vital part to play in bringing our nation's lost heritage back to life.

When canal restoration volunteers are recognised on a national scale, it fills us with excitement.

From The Queen's Award for Voluntary Service, received by the likes of Swansea Canal Society and Cotswold Canals Trust, to more technical, but still prestigious awards, the restoration sector are always going that extra mile to be recognised.

Group of people posing for camera Swansea Canal Society celebrating 50,000 volunteer hours

In November 2021, the volunteers at the Shropshire Union Canal Society were awarded the Ground Engineering (GE) Award in the Community Engagement category on behalf of their work towards the Montgomery Canal Restoration Project.

This award is not just one for the volunteer sector, but attracts some of the largest names in consultants, geo-technics, ground investigation specialists, suppliers and manufacturers.

Shropshire Union Canal volunteers working on the Montgomery Canal Shropshire Union Canal Society GE Award

The award was given in recognition for their technically complex work that was carried out on the stretch of canal near Crickheath, Oswestry. This was no simple task, as this part of the Montgomery Canal had almost disappeared due to subsidence from bad ground. The challenge was to re-instate the canal banks to avoid the problem again in the future.

We worked closely with Arcadis to design a solution that was suitable for construction by volunteers, whereby volunteers built oversized banks weighed down with water filled tanks over an area that used to be a peat bog. This then quickly induced the subsidence and allowed the volunteers to reduce the banks and finalise their shape.

Finished bank project on the Montgomery Canal. Photo: Shropshire Union Canal Society Finished bank project on the Montgomery Canal. Photo: Shropshire Union Canal Society

The work of Shropshire Union Canal Society, Arcadis and ourselves topped a shortlist which included a section of the HS2 project and three other professionally delivered entries. Without doubt, an achievement to celebrate.

This is why we're extremely proud of the hundreds of canal restoration volunteers that put so much passion and effort into these projects.

Restorations are unlikely to be achieved without crucial partnership working, and with the assistance of coordinating bodies like the Waterway Recovery Group, but it is those individual volunteers and their love for canals that really keep the momentum moving forward.

If you enjoy being outdoors, meeting people from different backgrounds or are looking to gain experience and new, transferrable skills, then maybe volunteering on your local canal restoration project is for you.

Last date edited: 1 December 2021