Volunteering has really improved my skills and abilities in so many ways. I love the training the Trust provides to volunteers.
I'm a lead volunteer towpath ranger, and I also volunteer as a lock keeper and a boat mover. I've been volunteering with the Trust since May 2016.
I'd recently been diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, which is a neuromuscular disorder. I wanted to find myself a purposeful, outdoor activity which would allow me some gentle exercise to help keep me physically and mentally healthy. I've always been a keen canal boater, so when I saw some adverts for the towpath ranger role, I signed up. I've been busy ever since.
Good physical and mental health
The towpath ranger role's a varied one, and it's different in different parts of the country. Here in London it's mostly focused on getting the Share the Space message to our towpath users, but it also involves looking for issues on the towpath including fly-tipping and broken bits of equipment and reporting those to the local enquiries' desk. There's also general towpath maintenance, picking litter, cutting back plants that are blocking the path and cleaning up some of the graffiti.
It's not something I do alone; every Thursday I lead a group of other volunteers on a short patrol of one of the lengths of towpath in my local area, and we walk and work for between one and two hours.
Opportunities through training
Volunteering has really improved my skills and abilities in so many ways. I love the training the Trust provides to volunteers, both hands-on with experienced canal workers, and also online through their new Trust-Ed system. Since starting as a volunteer I've passed through training that's qualified me to operate the newly refurbished Carpenters Road Lock, I've become a fully qualified volunteer skipper moving boats for the Trust around London, and I've been taught how to lead other volunteers at events I've planned.
In my first summer a team of us took the Trust's floating welcome station, a wide-beamed boat called 'Jena', to festivals in Bishops Stortford and Ware. The weather was fantastic, and helming the boat was a treat, something I hadn't expected when I signed on as a towpath ranger. It was a glorious, hard-working holiday!
Just do it!
To anyone thinking of signing up as a volunteer, I'd say do it! Try out one of the opportunities on offer and if you love it, do it some more. And if you don't love it, there are so many other varied roles with the Trust that you're bound to find something you love.