Volunteer lock keepers

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Canal volunteers receive official congratulations
Brain Blessed calling for volunteer lock keepers
Busy Audlem canal in Autumn

The Canal & River Trust (CRT), the charity which takes over British Waterways’ responsibility for 2,000 miles of waterways in England & Wales in April 2012, is this week calling on local communities in Cheshire to get involved in a unique opportunity that will see them carry out an iconic role along their local canal – as a volunteer lock keeper.

Brian Blessed, actor and adventurer, who is as well known for his commanding presence as he is for his mighty voice, is backing the campaign in appealing to the 13 million people who use the nation’s canals and rivers each year.

#Lock keepers
Lock keepers have been a fixture on the canals for hundreds of years and the role of the modern-day lock keeper is to provide a polite and friendly welcome to waterway visitors, assisting boaters through the locks and helping to maintain the lock area.

Now, in Cheshire, members of the public, canal societies and anyone with a passion for their local canal or river have the opportunity to join in with one of the oldest traditions of the waterways.

Following a successful trial period along stretches around the Shropshire Union Canal — we believe this refers to three British Waterways volunteers seen regularly on the Audlem stretch — Kennet & Avon Canal and River Trent, the scheme is now being rolled out to all areas of the country with positions identified at iconic locks.

#Volunteers
Volunteers played a fundamental role in saving the canal and river network in the 20th century and their contribution continues to help maintain and preserve the nation’s inland waterways; with their unique industrial architecture and important role as havens for nature.

They also contributed more than 24,000 days between April 2010 to March 2011 and over 50 people successfully took part in the volunteer lock keeper trials last year.

Wendy Capelle, Waterway Manager for British Waterways commented: “The task of a lock keeper is arguably the most symbolic on the waterways and the trials around the country have shown us that there’s huge public interest out there for the waterways.

"It’s a perfect opportunity for those who enjoy working in the outdoors and are perhaps looking for something different to do and want to help support the Canal & River Trust in what will be its first year.

“Cheshire’s Canals are an important heritage asset that needs looking after and our volunteers have been able to provide so many additional benefits on top of the fantastic work our own staff carry out which is really beginning to make a difference.

"The key qualities we’re looking for are enthusiasm and a willingness to learn. Whether it’s helping a boat through the lock, talking to customers, litter picking or undertaking vegetation works, it can really make a great difference to a visitor’s appreciation of the waterways.”

The Canal & River Trust will care for 1,654 locks and there are approximately 5 million ‘lockings’ each year (passages through locks). Over 34,000 boats now call the waterways home; a figure higher than at the height of the industrial revolution.

#Blessed are the waterways
Brian Blessed comments: “Ever since I was a child I’ve loved our canals and rivers, going off exploring on my bike and looking for wildlife.

"They’re unique places so I would urge people with a real passion for their local waterway to get involved as a volunteer lock keeper or take advantage of one of the many opportunities to support the Canal & River Trust. They meant so much to me as a child so I think it’s important we all do what we can to help protect them for our next generations to enjoy.”

Volunteering will be integral to the success of the Trust which will become one of the biggest charities in the UK, giving local communities a bigger say in the running of their local canal or river.

#How to volunteer
A full list of volunteer lock keeping locations is available by emailing  volunteer@britishwaterways.co.uk, visiting the website — click on the link below the photos —  or phoning 01827 252097.

Willing volunteers can start quickly and no prior experience is necessary as a full induction, training and a uniform will be provided.