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The charity making life better by water

Volunteering by water with George and Raja

Hear from two wonderful volunteers about why they enjoy helping us make life better by water.

The number of people volunteering with our charity is increasing all the time. It’s an incredible achievement and an invaluable contribution to our waterways that we hope many more people will make in the coming months and years. That’s why, this January, we’re encouraging people of all ages and backgrounds to volunteer by water, just as George and Raja have done.

You're never too old and never too young to volunteer on the waterways, as George's story shows. From the age of seven, he's been helping his grandad, Peter, and all the other volunteers in our heritage working boats team. He told us how he first got involved.

Two people on a boat smiling at the camera

“For as long as I can remember, I have been around canals. I went on my nan and grandpa's boat when I was about three months old, and canals and boating have just always been present in my life. My interest in the boating and historical side came when I was about seven, when my grandpa made me a box so I could stand at the back of his boat and steer. This is also about the time I started attending boat rallies.

I started volunteering when I was about eight years old. Working on the heritage boats is something I love; a passion that is uniquely mine. Spending summers on the boat and exploring different parts of the country has always given me a sense of escapism. One of the main reasons my volunteering is special to me is because I get to share it with my grandpa. It's a passion that means a lot to both of us.

Transferable skills

As I've got older, volunteering has given me many transferable skills such as presentation and public speaking. I love showcasing the history of the heritage boats and knowing that the people I speak to have learnt something about life on the canals. It has also taught me the importance of health and safety when working as a team. Progressing to skipper is a clear next step as I am confident in my abilities after all these years.

A young person on a boat with an award

I'm 16 now and I'd love to see more people my age volunteering with the Trust and sharing my passion for canals, boats and all the wonderful experiences I get to have. Right now, I'm the only one my age involved with the heritage boats. It would be great to see more young people step forward to volunteer for our charity.”

But you don't need to have grown up on canals and rivers to volunteer. Raja had never experienced anything like them until he arrived in Leicester from India in February 2021: “Having completed a Batchelors degree in Civil Engineering in Chennai, I came to Leicester De Montfort University to pursue a Masters in Project Management.

A man standing next to the canal

While I was there, I was looking for a volunteering opportunity and came across the Canal & River Trust. It appealed to me because I have a passion for saving the environment and nature. I'm not the kind of person who wants to sit in a concrete jungle. I want to be out in the countryside, helping to protect nature. I went along for the induction day and soon got an opportunity to volunteer at the Leicester Riverside Festival.

Build confidence and skills

I was hoping that volunteering would help me meet new people and build on my skills. Really, I'm a bit shy and a bit of an introvert, so I wanted to volunteer to build my confidence, socialise and improve my communication skills. It helps your mental health and is a great way to get to know the country, culture and learn about its history and heritage.

I had a great experience meeting a lot of people from diverse backgrounds at the festival and encouraged them to get involved to help restore and maintain the waterways and protect natural habitat along the towpath.

I've graduated now and moved from Leicester to Liverpool, but I hope to continue my volunteering journey here. One thing I dream of now is finding a project management or civil engineering role with the Canal & River Trust. I would like to play my part in protecting the history of canals and improving the environment for everyone.”

Improving the environment for everyone

Thanks to people like George and Raja, our volunteers do amazing work to protect and maintain canals and keep their history alive for us all to enjoy. It's also a great way to meet people, get active and the feeling of wellbeing you get from spending time outside, doing good work for your local community is priceless.

So why not try volunteering by water this New Year? You can check out the hundreds of volunteering opportunities we have available. From leading walking tours, to support young learners or joining a towpath taskforce there's any number of ways to get involved.

Two volunteers in high vis jackets gardening on the canal towpath

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This article was first shared in December 2022

Last Edited: 30 November 2023

photo of a location on the canals
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