Working holidays boost canal restoration

Published: Monday, 29 July 2019

VOLUNTEERS from across the UK and France have spent three weeks in July helping restore the Wey & Arun Canal.

This as part of a Waterway Recovery Group summer Canal Camp initiative, with some 50 volunteers headed to Birtley, near Bramley in Surrey, to join the Wey & Arun Canal Trust in building a lift bridge, which is needed to bring the abandoned section of canal there back to life.

Bridge being builtThree week-long holidays

The series of three week-long working holidays attracted volunteers of all ages and experiences, from Duke of Edinburgh’s Gold Award students, to those looking to increase their skills in construction, and returning Canal Camp enthusiasts from restoration groups KESCRG and Newbury Working Party Group.

Many of those attending were first time volunteers, keen to give their time to canal restoration and learn new skills and meet new people. Oceane Pottier who had not attended a Canal Camp before explained:

“I am studying engineering in France and signed up to the camps to get some more experience in this. I’ve really enjoyed my time here.”

19th camp

For Claire Sawyer it was her 19th camp. The peri-natal mental health nurse told the camps provided the opportunity to meet different people and she had made lots of new friends as a result, as well as gaining new skills, adding:

“It’s also great to look back at what you’ve achieved at the end of the week.”

Software engineer Stephen Davis, who led the third week of the camp, has been attending canal camps for 20 years as part of restoration group KESCRG, telling:

“Coming to these camps is so rewarding. With my computer work you don’t get visible results like you do here. I like to be out in the fresh air and get some exercise. We’ve got a great spread of ages and backgrounds here, from chemists, retired lawyers to students.”

Volunteers19Just a hole in the ground

Over the three week-long camps, volunteers started with just a hole in the ground and have created the foundations on which the bridge will stand. To achieve this, they have used over five and half tonnes of reinforced steel, 7,000 ties and have poured more than 22 cubic metres of concrete.

The bridge has been designed by Wey & Arun Canal Trust volunteer Rob Nicholson, who also led the second week of the camp. The Newbury Working Party Group’s Bill Nicholson, who led the first week of the camp, explained:

“Building a new bridge is a major engineering project, and this would not be possible without the commitment of volunteers willing to give so much time to help plan and build the structure. In just three weeks we turned a hole in the ground into the base structure that will support the lift bridge, it’s fantastic to see such progress in a small amount of time.”

Thanked volunteers

Wey & Arun Canal Trust chairman Sally Schupke thanked the volunteers for their hard work and highlighted the difference the camps make to the canal’s restoration progress:

“It’s clear the volunteers get so much out of these annual events, and we’re grateful to them for their dedication and commitment to helping us realise our vision of restoring the canal and bringing its benefits to so many people.”