Towpath Taskforce - David Lewis

David Lewis is a regular volunteer with Towpath Taskforce in Selby. He gives us the lowdown on what happens at a typical day and why he, and so many others, keep promising to come back for more.

Boat passing by swing bridge, Dewison Road on Selby Canal Boat passing by swing bridge, Dewison Road on Selby Canal
"There's good team spirit in bringing a dozen or so volunteers together to complete a task that might seem small, but at the end of the day has made a noticeable improvement to the area." David Lewis

David is 57 and originally worked as a Chemistry teacher. Since 2009 he has been involved in various initiatives concerning the heritage of Selby; keen to make more people aware of all Selby has to offer. He volunteers in shops and at Selby Library, as well as with us at the Trust. He also endures the questionable joys of following Selby Town FC.

When did you first get involved with the canal in Selby?

In 2009 I worked for the Heritage Lottery Fund producing leaflets and books on the history of Selby.  I wrote about trade along the Ouse, the opening of the Selby Canal in 1778, and features along its 6-mile length to Chapel Haddlesey on the Aire. My work also involved taking groups of school children on trips along the canal.

What interested you about volunteering with us?

The ability to improve the environment of the canal, work with other like-minded people, take healthy exercise, hear about other people’s enjoyment of the waterways and hopefully make more people aware of all the Selby Canal has to offer. In terms of my involvement with the Towpath Taskforce (previously Towpath Tidy), I saw the publicity in autumn 2011 and have greatly enjoyed working with Claire, Lucy and the other volunteers.

Do you volunteer elsewhere?

Yes. I give 5 hours a week at the Age UK shop in Selby and spend a similar amount of time cataloguing Selby library’s local history and map collections. I work with the village allotment group and spend time with local groups such as the Civic Society and Family History Group on various heritage items.

Talk us through a typical day at Towpath Taskforce

We arrive at the meeting point around 10am on a Saturday morning and first of all we always have a chat with the other volunteers and share what we’ve all been up to for the last month or so. Then we decide with the volunteer leader what specific tasks we can do today, and head for the back of Lucy’s car to pick up this month’s tools of the trade.

After a quick health and safety briefing and an “I fancy doing that if you fancy doing this” delegation of jobs, off we plunge into the undergrowth – or we start tackling some rusty railings or sanding down some woodwork.           

We all muck in together on each other’s tasks – most spectacularly when, on one Saturday, everyone joined together to haul out a weed-encrusted supermarket trolley from the middle of the cut.

From time to time passers-by stop to chat. Quite often they’re pleased to see that someone’s taking care of the towpath.

Sometime around noon there’s a call for tea, the biscuits are broken out and there’s a jolly get together. We’ve normally got more than half the task done by the time the tea bags are wet, so the proverbial end is in sight and it’s not too much of a strain to down mugs and pick up shovels again after 30 minutes or so.     

It’s not long before the job’s done, everywhere is swept up and the rubbish is bagged ready for collection. With trips planned, family parties and challenging treks all discussed, everyone makes their way home around about 2pm – but we all promise we’ll be back next month – and we usually are!

What have you achieved so far?

  • weed clearance around the sculpture and the swing bridge at Denison Road
  • tidying up the car park at Brayton Bridge and repainting bollards
  • painting the handrails under bridges and benches along the towpath
  • clearing back pathways
  • scrub clearance to allow an original avenue of trees to be properly appreciated.
  • litter removal (with an amazing amount of aluminium tins and glass bottles for recycling!)

What have you most enjoyed?

The physical work, the camaraderie, making the place look better. The great thing is that there's good team spirit in bringing a dozen or so volunteers together to complete a task that might seem small, but at the end of the day has made a noticeable improvement to the area, so hopefully encouraging more Selebians (yes, that is a word to describe those born in Selby) to enjoy the canal.

It's also good healthy exercise, which the fabulous biscuits provided only detract from a little!

What have you least enjoyed?

Encounters with unforeseen dog muck in the undergrowth....!

What did you hope to get out of Towpath Taskforce before you joined?

Joining with a team of strangers to achieve something. Learning from others’ experiences of the canal and the waterways generally.

Have you got anything unexpected out of the experience?

The pleasure of knowing that a lot more people than I thought, know about and use the canal.

*Claire McDonald and Lucy Dockray work in the volunteering team at the Canal & River Trust.

Last date edited: 10 July 2015