Marsh Volunteer Team Award with the Canal & River Trust

This Award is run in partnership with the Canal and River Trust.

The Award recognises 6 teams of volunteers throughout the UK who have made a valuable contribution to the Canal and River Trust and is an opportunity to thank outstanding volunteers. These volunteers contribute their time and skills which are a huge asset to the organisation.

Nominations for the Award are submitted to the Canal and River Trust and are judged by a panel consisting of Canal and River Trust and MCT representatives.

Pictured: 2018 Marsh Impact Volunteer Award winner Michelle Hale

The River Weaver Lock Keepers, The Garden Party Team, Harecastle Tunnel Volunteer Team, Erewash Towpath Taskforce, Trevor Basin Visitor Centre Team and The Griffin Workboat Team 2023


The River Weaver Lock Keepers 

The River Weaver Lock Keepers are essential to the navigation on this waterway. They now have fifteen volunteers on the team, and each gives at least one full day per week. So far, the group have logged 3,843 hours. Due to the size and complexities of the Weaver Locks, these cannot be operated by the general public, and are required to be staffed all day, every day. If the lock did not have volunteers to help with this task, the operations team wouldn’t be able to do other critical works like maintenance and repairs. Volunteer Lock Keepers are not only in charge of safely seeing boats through these huge structures, they are looking after the grounds by keeping vegetation tidy and preserving heritage structures, even if they’re no longer in use. They offer guidance and assurance for boaters and towpath users, whether it’s pointing them in the direction of the nearest water point or explaining how it all works. They have got the answers and they are more than happy to share the knowledge with anyone and everyone. The River Weaver Lock keepers are walking talking advertisements for the Canal & River Trust. 


The Garden Party Team 

The Garden Party was launched out of a shared interest in horticulture and biodiversity between members in the local Towpath Task Force groups who were keen to develop planting schemes. The group has developed several new sites and has worked alongside staff and corporate groups to improve several existing locations. The group continues to grow and each week receives more interest from new volunteers. One of the main standout points of the group is their commitment to help achieve the Trust’s targets for biodiversity and a willingness to share existing skills with group members, in addition as a group they are always very excited to undergo training to expand the skillset of the group and help whenever they have availability. The results of the Garden Party work directly impacts boaters who are able to forage for additional food and herbs, the general public who always comment on how great the wild flowers and managed beds look and staff members who are out on the towpath. In addition, the variety of local native plants added to the towpath plants acts as hot spot for increases in biodiversity. 


Harecastle Tunnel Volunteer Team 

The Harecastle Volunteer Tunnel Keepers team manage the safe passages through the 1.7-mile long Harecastle Tunnel. This involves delivering the safety brief to all boaters and record the appropriate information, communication with the Volunteer tunnel keeper at the opposite portal to establish the tunnel is clear and a safe passage can begin. They monitor the progress of the passage, and follow the set protocol should any craft have difficulties, then check the boat out at the end of the passage. The passages have been covered 100% by volunteers, with the tunnel open for passage 4 mornings per week. During the 2022 season the aspiration was to increase this team with the addition of assistant tunnel keepers. This then enables them to maintain a level of consistency in training the assistant volunteers to become fully trained volunteer tunnel. Additionally, the team take responsibility for the general upkeep of the areas around each tunnel portal, creating a vegetable patch at the South portal and maintaining the general upkeep of the gardens at both portals, ensuring that the area is a welcome place to customers including boaters, and visitors to the tunnel. 4 of the volunteers are now fully trained to use the rescue boat in a breakdown scenario, with provisions in place to train any volunteer Tunnel keepers who wishes to, for this additional role. 


Erewash Towpath Taskforce 

The Erewash Towpath Taskforce have been meeting for several years, generally meeting once a week for between 4-5 hours. Many of the volunteers dedicate additional time in other capacities, such as Volunteer Lock Keepers, and Towpath Rangers. The nature of the Taskforce sessions means that these volunteers are more than happy to get involved in whatever task is required, from painting to vegetation management, Towpath resurfacing and more. The standout achievement this year is the offside vegetation management from Trent Lock to Gallows Inn, Ilkeston an impressive distance of approximately 6.5 miles, in 5 months. Without the dedication and support of this team many sections of the waterway would soon become difficult to navigate, in some instances impassable. More recently, summer work has been taking place at Trent Lock where the volunteers have installed a fence to enclose the garden allowing a safe area for children using the education facility. 


Trevor Basin Visitor Centre Team 

The Trevor Basin Visitor Centre Volunteers are hands on with talking to visitors to help them increase their understanding of the exhibits and local area, as well as enlightening them to the work that the Canal and River Trust carries out. The Volunteers roles also include cash  handling, responding to enquiries, restocking the shop, light cleaning and general administration. Some of the team have been with the Trust for over 10 years and others have achieved their Gold Volunteering Award badges. They have given over 15,000 hours of volunteering and 3,000 hours alone this year. They play a fundamental role in helping to increase donations at the site, and are also helping to piolet a new fundraising scheme for the Trust. The Team is a crucial element for the site to be able to function and it would not be able to without their enthusiasm, expertise and experience.  


The Griffin Workboat Team 

The Griffin workboat Team is a group of 6 volunteers that have helped to restore the Trust’s workboat, the ‘Griffin’. The Team accumulated over 250 hours to repair the Griffin to her former glory through every aspect of the restoration process. Griffin is now a vital resource for the West London Team in building their volunteer work boat crew. She is now used by the volunteers, as a base while they are out on the waterways, fixing potholes, clearing invasive species, collecting litter, other towpath maintenance, and is being used as a base during the volunteer work to paint the historic monument the Hanwell Flight of locks. The group have different experience levels and pushed themselves and each other to strive. Two of the team have taken the experience they have gained with us to go on their own canal boat holiday. From learning to use small tools, several of the team have gone on to do the ‘small tools’ and ‘cutting wheels’ course to further their experience and to work towards becoming lead volunteers. A number of the team volunteer regularly with other opportunities whilst being Volunteer Rangers they join towpath task forces and even work towards becoming workboat crew. This has been a great vehicle for development and has been a great advert to what can be done with other volunteers. 

Previous Winners

Middlewich Volunteer Lock Keepers, Tuel Lane Lock Keepers, Foxton Maintenance Team, Heritage Working Boats Volunteers, Aqueduct Rangers and South East Action Days Teams


Middlewich Volunteer Lock Keepers

This volunteer team was formed in 2015 and includes 12 volunteers who coordinate a busy lock flight and junction on the Trent and Mersey Canal in Cheshire. They are a friendly face for boaters and the local community, and offer invaluable guidance to newcomers to the area. They are well known within the community and are a recognizable, friendly team that provide guidance and local information to all. The team recently supported the Trust at the Middlewich Folk and Boat Festival, holding a free boat trip for visitors, engaging with guests, manning and demonstrating the locks and giving the Trust a presence across the festival weekend. The team are entirely self-sufficient which means that staff at the Trust are able to focus on other tasks whilst confident that this section of canal is well cared for. They are always encouraging of new members and support one another with any task that needs to be done. They go above and beyond their role as lock keepers and are very much a part of the core team in the North West. The volunteers really care about what they do and take great pride in their work, whatever task they might be undertaking.


Tuel Lane Lock Keepers

The group works at Tuel Lock every weekend and responds to specific requests during the week when they are needed. They provide safe passage through the locks and work in collaboration with a local boat hire company to ensure that all boaters are able to undertake their journey. The volunteers work well as a team and are a key point of interaction with the general public as well as boaters. They are a public facing volunteer group who commit a lot of time to their role and to ensuring that boaters have the best possible experience. The volunteers are always keen to provide the best service possible and are supportive in providing feedback and new ideas to improve what they do and the service they provide. They have been consistent and effective in their roles, ensuring a positive reflection of the work of the Trust and promoting its work.


Foxton Maintenance Team

Foxton Locks is a 34-acre site with the longest and steepest staircase locks in the UK and the maintenance of these can include anything from litter picking to helping with residential events that are held on the site. This maintenance team aims to volunteer once a week depending on what is needed from them. The backgrounds of team members vary enormously from construction and engineering through to mental health nurses and police officers. They all pitch in under the guidance of Mike Dex, who spent his career in construction and has gained many skills that he is happy to pass on to his fellow volunteers. The volunteers tackle the various tasks in small groups, working effectively together to ensure that the work gets done and they can achieve as much as possible. The site can get extremely busy and the maintenance team need to be versatile and able to work under pressure, while also providing assistance to visitors when this is needed. All members of this team go over and above to keep the site looking good and to help create a really special visit for people. The team bring a high level of expertise in so many areas and one can see the difference they make just by looking around the site.


Heritage Working Boats Volunteers

Some members of this team have been volunteering for over 10 years. They are a dedicated team of volunteers who care for 4 heritage boats and attend events all over the region as representatives of the Trust. During the winter, when the boats are moored up, volunteers attend a couple of days a week to carry out planned maintenance tasks to ensure the boats are ready for the next season. Prior to the start of the season, the volunteers arrange a clean up day where the whole team attend to wash the boats, touch up any paint work and polish them ready for the summer. They are hardworking, willing to get involved and enthusiastic about volunteering for the Trust. The team are friendly and welcoming, actively trying to involve the community of all ages and particularly engaging with families to share the stories of the heritage boats that they look after. They are extremely knowledgeable about the history of the boats and can answer most questions posed by the public. They have worked with the National Trust to support their programme of Youth Leader Training, working with the young people to assist them in delivering a presentation about heritage boats and the history of canals. They are a dedicated team who are keen to show the Trust in a positive light and are really enthusiastic about the volunteering and the opportunities available to them.


Aqueduct Rangers

The Aqueduct Ranger opportunity was set up in 2016 and the team has grown in strength and numbers since then. The Rangers patrol the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Trevor Basin are of World Heritage, ensuring that visitors are made safe and welcome during their visit. The site receives over 3,000 visitors during the summer, with additional visitors on the water, and so the Rangers ensure that all health and safety measures are adhered to while people are enjoying themselves. They are also on the lookout for potential hazards and report these to the necessary people – hazards which can include cyclists, who they have to handle calmly and professionally. Unfortunately, the volunteers have had to keep a watchful eye out for people coming to the aqueduct to take their own life and this is something that they deal with with empathy and thoughtfulness. The whole team are ambassadors for the Trust and support them with moving forward with future activities and strategies. The Rangers were one of the first volunteering roles to come back after lockdown and the volunteers could not wait to get back out to meet with and help visitors to the aqueduct.


South East Action Days Team

South East Action Days take place every Friday in various locations on the Grand Union Canal South. Although this group is fairly new they have quickly become an amazing team of dedicated volunteer who love improving their local canal, logging over 1,000 hours this year alone. They have undertaken improvement projects on two lock keeping sites including painting the flight of the locks, repairing and replacing old fencing and planting borders by signs to improve the look of the sites for customers. This team dedicate a huge amount of time to volunteering with the Trust and have been incredibly supportive of staff across the region. They have an amazing attitude and are always on hand to help with any queries from staff or towpath users. The group are incredibly dedicated and passionate about improving their local canal, while actively recruiting new members to involve the community as much as possible. They are a group of model volunteers who always have a positive can-do attitude and work hard to make improvements to the waterway.

Active Waterways and Volunteer Expens Champions

North West  

Volunteer Walk Leaders – Active Waterways Cheshire 

Active Waterways is a project offering online and guided walking programmes along local Canals and Rivers for inactive or vulnerable residents. The Active Waterways volunteers adapted quickly to the challenges of Covid-19, supporting staff to deliver programmes online in the first instance and then, when restrictions eased, delivering the walking tours in person. For many participants, restarting their walks was their first time socialising and participating in group activities again. The Active Waterways volunteers share their enthusiasm of the canal and river networks and their knowledge of local history and nature, as well as encouraging participants to socialise further after their walk over a coffee. They make all participants feel welcome and comfortable, helping them to feel confident in talking to new people and establishing friendships. The volunteers’ ability to nurture groups of strangers into tightknit groups of friends is demonstrated by a number of groups who are continuing to walk together, even after their organised programme has come to an end. The Active Waterways volunteers demonstrate the qualities of teamwork, effective communication and sharing responsibilities. The volunteers have helped over 100 people in the last year, bringing communicates together, connecting like-minded people and nurturing new friendships. They have also introduced more people to the benefits offered by their local waterways and encouraged people to use and enjoy the towpaths. The volunteers are fantastic advocates for the Canal and River Trust. 

West Midlands 

Volunteer Expenses Champions 

These volunteers provide an exceptional service to all volunteers and managers across the Canal and River Trust who need guidance in using and navigating the online expenses claim system. They provide invaluable coaching and troubleshooting services by phone and email and are the only volunteers of this type in the organisation. In 2021, the Trust introduced a new expense claim system for volunteers and this team stepped up to the challenge, helping to design, test and deliver the system. The volunteers have given over 380 hours to the role since April 2019, 230 of which have been given in the last 12 months. They use their detailed knowledge to provide effective and tailored user support, demonstrating great patience, understanding and willingness to assist. The type of support they provide ranges from setting up accounts, IT assistance and troubleshooting any issues that arise. They tailor the support they provide to the individual needs of the service user and help make the experiences for volunteers run smoothly, making it easier for them to claim their expenses. The transition to the new system has yielded multiple challenges, but the volunteers have been gracious, understanding and steadfast throughout and have indicated that they would be pleased to assist with other developments with online systems in the future. 

Wigan Lock Keepers, The Saltaire & Shipley Taskforce , The Pattern Casting Cataloguing Team, South Derbyshire Towpath Taskforce, Paddle Gear Engineering Project Team, Aidan's Wonder Team

North West – Wigan Lock Keepers

The Wigan Flight Lock Keepers, as they are known now, have been active for over 5 years. Together they not only facilitate passage for boaters, but are an essential team for maintaining water and functionality of the flight and therefore the canal that proceeds it. They all pitch in to go above and beyond the call of duty. The sense of comradery between themselves, and their relationship with staff, is excellent. They work in collaboration with staff to achieve mutually beneficial results and they are a positive and essential asset to the Can; and River Trust.

Yorkshire & North East – The Saltaire & Shipley Taskforce

The team’s vision is a bold one: to transform a 4 mile stretch of the Leeds/Liverpool Canal. The aim is to improve the space over time, creating an inter linking series of beautiful gardens, interesting sculptures, murals, wildlife habitats and interpretation boards. The overall impact will be the enrichment of both the lives of both the group and the many hundreds of towpath users. This team are greatly appreciated for their commitment and going over and above what is required of them. They are innovative and uphold the values of the Canal and River Trust completely.

West Midlands – The Pattern Casting Cataloguing Team at Ellesmere Yard (Dr Maurice Ward, Keith Scargill, David Morris)

Maurice, David & Keith have been chosen for the mammoth effort of cataloguing a collection of casting patterns at Ellesmere Yard. Giving over 800 hours in total, they have taken 2,000 photographs and added 1,500 records to the National Waterways Museum database.  They have carefully recorded all the patterns, some from the late 1800’s, which represent an invaluable collection that will be enjoyed by staff and the public for many years to come.

East Midlands – South Derbyshire Towpath Taskforce (Luke Butler, Julie Hayrich, Julie Lockett, Chris Marriott, Bob Chapman, Dave Hooper, Ian Webb, Mike Taylor, Sue Quigley, Charlie Welford, Neil Welford)

South Derbyshire Towpath Taskforce have made a big difference to the waterway users by tackling a large project at Derwent Mouth on the River Trent. The team of volunteer’s hard work has enabled a stretch of navigation, that was only wide enough for one boat to pass, to become 5 meters wide. The team did this by removing sunken and rooted vegetation and silt from the river.

The team have made the Canal and River Trust more visible within the area. They have shown incredible grit and determination to complete the works in a very short time scale, accompanied with testing weather conditions which saw them breaking ice to get the boat out!

Wales & South West – Paddle Gear Engineering Project Team (Dave Newman, Chris Hodnett & Nick Hopkins)

This Team have shown great dedication to restoring paddle gearing on the Kennet & Avon Canal. They have established a paddle gear engineering workshop at Newbury, which has seen them utilising their hydraulic engineering experience. They have tracked down documentation from various vaults and libraries and have created a centre of excellence for our unusual hydraulic gear. The team have also delivered the spindle replacement programme for the hydraulic barrels.

London & South East – Aidan’s Wonder Team

As the Canal and River Trust’s local team leader, Aidan Slater has put together a highly regarded team of volunteers lovingly named Aidan’s Wonder Team. Their support has been crucial to operational works on the canals within Central London. The team are dedicated to making a real difference to the canal system. They have surpassed the boundaries of what constitutes ‘regular’ volunteering and have really broken the mould to show what is possible.