Meet Chris, happy to make an exhibition of himself

I’ve been involved with the National Waterways Museum Gloucester since the beginning. As a freelance press photographer in 1988 I captured Llanthony Warehouse’s transformation into a museum. Now, after many changes for the museum, and for me, I’m back.

Chris Witts, volunteer Chris Witts, volunteer

I'm now starting my second stint as chairman of the Friends Group. I’m even found in the galleries, seems I am part of history around here.

My passion for the water stretches back much further than the ‘80s. As a boy my mum gave me two books, on the Bristol Channel and the River Severn. These set the course for my life and I joined a commercial tanker company working on the River Severn.

Chris Witts, volunteer at the National Waterways Museum Gloucester

In 1960 came my first (unwelcome) brush with history when my tanker was out in the Severn off Sharpness the night of the Severn Railway Bridge disaster and I witnessed the accident. Visitors to the museum can hear me tell that story. As one of the last survivors of that awful night it’s strange to be part of history, and in the exhibition. But I’m also pleased to share other, happier, tales of my time on the Severn. When I’m in the museum I’ll sometimes watch people’s reaction to my ‘talking head’ exhibit, enjoying the double takes when they see I’m standing alongside them.

Reminders of the past

I love anything to do with the wide commercial barges. Probably because I worked the grain barges and dredgers in the late 1990s. Gloucester Docks were a gateway for trade between the midlands, the south west and the wider world. Now it’s a popular centre for leisure, but there are plenty of reminders of our hard working past, both in the museum and outside.

As Mayor of Gloucester in 2010 I was horrified to learn the museum faced closure. I took up chairmanship of the Friends (there were no volunteers back then, they were Friends) to help with vital fundraising. As a charity we continue to rely on the generosity of visitors and supporters and also our volunteers.

Happy to help

I get satisfaction supporting the museum. In previous years I’ve helped crew the trip boats – on the water again. But I’m equally happy digitising photos, working in marketing and communications or taking a guided tour. I also love paperwork. Whatever it takes to keep the museum going, I’m happy to help.

The National Waterways Museum. Gloucester, reopens on 5 May 2018. Take a look at our volunteering opportunities.

Last date edited: 26 April 2018