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John, lock keeper

Volunteer poses next to a narrowboat covered in Canal & River Trust branding at Newbury Water Festival

There is a special joy in model making. The joy of challenge and problem-solving, the joy of self-expression, and the pleasure of seeing your vision become a reality and of sharing it with others. Volunteer John Berry is getting rather good at it.

Model making is a hobby I arrived at late in life but my practical approach to problem-solving runs from my father through me to my son. Model making is good for your mind. You become absorbed in the task and lose track of time. Your brain is taken over with thoughts of how to build the next bit.

I volunteer with the Kennet & Avon Canal eastern team of volunteer lock keepers. We decided we could do with a focal point for Trust stands at events, so I built a lock, complete with water. It took me two weeks.

Judging by the stream of people to the stand wanting to see how a lock works, I think it was a success and well worth the effort. It has since been on tour to the Fobney Family Wild Day and the steaming weekend at Crofton, to the delight of the children who visited us.

More generally, my volunteering role is important in the day to day running of the Newbury unit. Before I retired I was a store manager for the now vanished retailer Woolworths. Although in 2015 I signed up to be a volunteer lock keeper in Newbury, my lock keeping is down to two days a month. I spend up to four days a week using my commercial skills to help keep the Newbury unit running.

Doing things properly

I order in supplies, maintain tools and hire equipment. I put on my commercial head and consider how and where we spend money. I was a trainer at Woolworths for a while, so I like to share working practices, applying certain approaches to planning and organisation. I like to do things properly – if you take a shortcut, someone else always has to pick up the pieces.

I'm also lead volunteer for maintaining our workboat, Nelson. We keep it in fuel and water, pump the bilges and give it a lick of paint. I help move it along the canal to where it's needed for work and use it to clear offside vegetation when requested. I've even gone out with bank staff to help with lock maintenance.

Creating friendships

I love volunteering. It keeps me motivated, alert and physically fit, and I give it the same commitment that I would a paid job. We are a really good group of 49 volunteers in the east of the K&A. We go out together socially a couple of times a year, so volunteering has brought new friends into my life.

I like talking to people, it comes from my sales background, and it's partly why I volunteer. I like to feel I'm part of something, and that I'm making a difference.

Two volunteers in high vis jackets gardening on the canal towpath

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