Thelma Edwards is a greeter for the 5,000 visitors who step aboard The Admiral floating visitor centre each year. She relishes her role as storyteller, bringing to life the inspiring tale of the Kennet & Avon Canal.
“I moved to Devizes with my husband Colin and volunteered with the Canal & River Trust to make new friends and develop a shared interest. After four years as a volunteer lock keeper and towpath taskforce member I was asked to be a greeter and to develop The Admiral as a visitor attraction. The boat is moored at Caen Hill.
I love the job and it gives me a sense of purpose that gets me up every morning now that I'm retired. I meet people from all over the world and I enjoy watching their reactions when they look at the before and after photos of Caen Hill's amazing restoration.
The shell of The Admiral, a wide beamed boat, was craned into the canal at Devizes Wharf in December 2015. A huge amount of the work to get this boat set up and the running was done by volunteers who turned it into a visitor centre by July 2016. When it was launched it was named in honour of Admiral Sir William O'Brien, a Royal Navy veteran who became a key figure in the restoration of the Kennet & Avon Canal. She is a boat to be proud of!
Occasionally we take the boat to other venues for events and festivals along the canal, but the Admiral is moored here most of the time at the top of the Caen Hill Flight by the café at lock 44.
Wellbeing by water
One of the things I enjoy the most is sharing the ‘wow' moments with families as they come aboard for the first time. I'm a firm believer that giving ourselves time to just ‘be' rather than constantly striving to ‘do', is incredibly important for our wellbeing. Spending time by water definitely makes us happier and healthier.
I encourage children to enjoy the beautiful surroundings, get to know the swans and learn about wildlife. They feed the fish with duck food from the boat, watching the colours of their fins shine as they dart across the water.
Explore Diamond Jubilee Wood
As a granny, I know that children enjoy interacting with things rather than being told about them. I've created three waymarked trails with features to discover around our adjacent Diamond Jubilee Wood.
My displays are linked to visitors' frequently asked questions. I also make sure I promote our national campaigns, such as the Plastics Challenge anti-litter campaign.
Sometimes visitors are reluctant to step onto a boat, but I encourage them aboard and they find it to be more stable than they expected. I hope that by passing on my love of boating I may even convince some to take a boating holiday.
Several families come back and visit us every school holiday. Some spend almost a whole day, they bring a picnic, explore the trails, and finish off with an ice cream from Caen Hill café. What could be a nicer way to spend the day.”
In recognition of her tremendous efforts and enthusiasm, the Trust has awarded Thelma a gold badge for the 2,000 hours (250 working days) she's given of her own time.
Contributed by Steve, Thelma's volunteer development coordinator.
"Thelma is a retired health professional, and first started out volunteering as a lock keeper assisting boats through the 29 Caen Hill locks. She quickly became instrumental in setting up the Caen Hill visitor centre on the Trust boat 'The Admiral'.
"Thelma has taken a lead, training and mentoring new volunteers and managing activities such as children's craft workshops and nature trails in neighbouring areas of woodland, to help engage local children in the heritage of the canals and its wildlife.
"She has particularly sought to champion the links between the environment and wellbeing, and helped develop new attractions and projects to ensure the Trust continues to reach out to young people."
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