Becky Parr - Volunteer of the Month February 2015

Created on 04/02/2015

The idea of attending a Waterway Recovery Group (WRG) Canal Camp did not initially appeal to Becky Parr. That was until she found herself giving it a go and realised how much fun they were. Becky started her time with WRG digging out the Ice Pit at London Canal Museum and has gone on to take part in waterway restoration projects across the country. She now helps to find leadership teams for Canal Camps, which are only just round the corner and keeping her busy. Read on to see what changed Becky’s opinion of Canal Camps and get inspired to give one a go yourself this summer!

How and when did you first become involved with WRG?

My sister, Rachel Parr, was with WRG since 1988, and always asked me to go – but the thought of getting muddy, doing work and not getting paid for it, in fact I had to pay for the privilege, didn’t appeal. Circumstances found me on a coach back in February 1991, heading for London with sleeping kit, old clothes and steel toe capped boots to spend a week digging out the Ice Pit at London Canal Museum.  

How has your role with WRG developed since then?
For years after my first dig I just went digging on different canals and going to Nationals (National Waterway Festival’s). I gained experience and confidence and threw my hat in the ring to assist on a camp. I assisted for years, not really wanting the responsibility of leading – then I did. It was a lot different from assisting, and more responsibility, but with the backup of the WRG Board, and the experience of assisting some brilliant leaders, I felt I had the confidence to do it. 

What was it about your first experiences volunteering with WRG that encouraged you to continue and take on your current roles?
I absolutely loved my first camp, so much so that I didn’t go home after it, and ended up digging for a week on the Mont. I met some amazing people, and did work that I never thought I’d do and got really muddy! At the Ice Pit, I worked alongside people from all backgrounds with different experiences and day jobs, and I soon realised that not everyone had an engineering background or knew everything and anything about canals. You may go on a camp without any skills, but you are sure to leave with some! About 3 years ago I wanted to be more involved with WRG, so when the WRG Board were asking for volunteers to help find leaders and assistants for camps, I put my name forward, along with another WRGie Mark Antony “MK2” Richardson, so we both ended up leader hunting together!

WRG’s summer Canal Camps aren’t that far away and they will each need a leadership team. You’re part of the group that finds this team for each of the camps, how many volunteers do you have to find for these roles and how do you go about doing it?
This year we need over 80 people to lead, assist or cook to help run our Canal Camps. We’ve already had a few people volunteer to lead and assist but we still need more. Volunteers are vital to the running of Canal Camps! In January we held our annual Leaders Thank You Meal; the evening is a great way of thanking leaders, assistants and cooks for all their hard work and starting the recruitment process for 2015!  

The formula for leader finding is actually quite simple, we ask for volunteers! This involves calling around people that led the previous year, speaking to regular ‘WRGies’ on the ground who might be interested in taking on a new role, putting out requests for volunteers on social media (WRG has a facebook group), and just talking to people. At the end of every Canal Camp season we also ask our leaders for feedback to see if there was anyone that showed potential to assist, somebody who enjoyed cooking breakfast etc.  

You don’t need to wait to be asked though, if you are interested please let me know. You can email me at leaders@waterways.org.uk.

What makes someone a good Canal Camp leader?
I find that you need to wear more than one hat when leading. The role does carry responsibility as you are looking after all the volunteers (even though they are all over 18!), managing the site, and working with the local canal society. It’s not as scary as people think though, as leaders have experience and tend to lead camps where they are comfortable with the work. Leaders need to be able to multi task and delegate using their assistant and MUP (Most Useful Person), have great communication skills and more importantly, have great listening skills. I found as an assistant I had more time to get to know the volunteers, and with leading I didn’t, so I personally still try and do that. A good leader needs to know their volunteers – what made them come on a camp and what they want to take away from it. A good aim to have as a leader is for new volunteers to book on further camps, so it’s really worth making your week as memorable as you can and making sure everyone leaves with new skills. Listen to your volunteers – if they are asking to do other work on site, or want to try their hand at say, bricklaying then get this to happen. It’s all about up skilling in a safe way, and giving everyone a good week.  

If anyone new to volunteering on Canal Camps would one day like to have a go at leading camps or other volunteering roles within WRG, how would you recommend they go about it?
Ideally they need to do a couple of Canal Camps, and then attend a Leaders Training Day. We hold them once a year, for both volunteers who lead and assist, and those that would like to. The day comprises of interesting and informative stuff, hopefully taking any scary thoughts away if people find the idea of leading or assisting too daunting.

This year the Leaders Training Day is on the 9th May, at Rowington Village Hall (Warwickshire). It’s a good opportunity for people who have never led to talk to other leaders and find out what it’s all about. The day is the main way we get information out to our leaders so it’s useful that if you’re thinking about leading or assisting you come along. We try really hard to vary the content year on year and make it interesting.  

What makes WRG a good organisation to volunteer with?
Not only is the work interesting and varied, we passionately believe in volunteers, the work that can be achieved and helping people gain new skills, from bricklaying to driving a dumper. To see a volunteer start at the beginning of a camp, not knowing anyone or ever having done the type of work before, to seeing them at the end of the week swopping contact details with new friends and arranging to meet up at another camp, is really quite something. Everyone is listened to, everyone has an input, and everyone is treated fairly and safely.    

What’s your favourite WRG memory?

Mmmm, tough question, I have far too many! I have met some amazing people through WRG and worked on some really good sites, and have some truly great memories so picking just one is too difficult, but a week I led on Gough’s Orchard with Nikki Packer back in (I think!) 2011, still makes me smile and so very proud of the team of volunteers and the work we achieved!  

What would you say to anyone considering signing up to a WRG Canal Camp this year?
Do you want me to lend you a pen?...

Photo: Becky Parr and Tom Rawlings on a WRG Canal Camp

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Thank you to Becky for this interview. If Becky's expereinces have inspired you to get involved, take a look at our many volunteer opportunities or see what Canal Camps you could take part in this summer.

Tags: Volunteer of the Month

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