Bob Abbott - Volunteer of the Month August 2014
Photo: Bob Abbott (far right) with fellow committee members Pat Robinson and Mike Slade, at a Himalayan Balsam work party (photo by Stefanie Preston)
Bob Abbott's interest in the waterways began in around 2003 and was intended to be a relaxing retirement activitiy. Since then he has found himself as a regular IWA volunteer after taking on the role of IWA West Country Branch Chairman around three years ago. In this role, Bob has worked to motivate the Branch to hold regular work parties and develop plans for the future. Read on to get an idea of what these may be.
How and when did you first become interested in inland waterways?
My wife and I joined IWA in 2003 when we designed our own 47ft narrow boat with the idea it would become our retirement activity. That never happened as my business, family and voluntary activities have seemed to take priority!
How long have you been volunteering with IWA? What encouraged you to start?
Three years or so ago I attended the IWA West Country Branch AGM and somehow became chairman. I felt my transport, engineering, construction training, and management backgrounds would be of help to move the Branch and waterways projects forward.
What does being chairman of IWA West Country Branch involve?
The Branch covers a huge area, it’s over 200 miles long and 100 miles wide and so we hold committee and other meetings at various locations. We share transport wherever possible. My role is to identify, guide and prioritise various ideas and projects. These are raised not only by my fellow committee members but also from other IWA members as well as from our growing volunteer network and the public. The regional meetings I also attend with other branch chairmen are good for sharing ideas.
In the past year, you have increased the profile of the branch and made the work it does much more visible, how did you do this?
This last year has been hectic! Whilst there are various active groups and societies on my 'local' Bridgwater & Taunton Canal there seemed to be a lack of cohesion between themselves, our Branch, Canal & River Trust (CRT), the Environment Agency and various local authorities along both the canal and the River Tone. There was a certain element of mixed messages and I have worked hard to break these down. We have embarked on a series of volunteer coordinated work parties; we regularly feature in IWA Bulletins; we put up (and take down!) posters describing our work; we plan to host open meetings at Bridgwater and Taunton; we now own a mini marquee in order to 'pop-up' at events in the West Country; we are beginning to be invited as speakers; we are increasing our membership. We could do even more if we could strengthen our committee with a person who has experience in dealing with the media/web/publicity - any takers?
Why do you think it’s so important for IWA branches and volunteers to carry out these kinds of activities?
It is extremely important to be seen to be active. If that means litter picking then so be it but there are many other work parties that are needed. Wearing an 'IWA Volunteer' high viz coat definitely creates attention and invariably interesting conversations. In many cases it leads to new members! It becomes self-generating as volunteers introduce other volunteers and families.
How would you like to see IWA West Country Branch develop over the next few years?
The Branch will be involved in other varied activities in the future as we become more aligned to a wider spectrum of canal users needs and to the vagaries of how CRT would like us to work with them. These relationships are a key element to our very existence. However, fund raising and grant seeking will be an intrinsic part of our future if we are to carry out some of the projects we believe to be necessary in order to ensure the Bridgwater & Taunton Canal and the River Tone stay navigable. We are also looking at 'ways & means' to becoming involved in possible extensions into other navigable waters in Somerset - but that's another story!
What do you particularly enjoy about volunteering with IWA?
I am enjoying meeting with others in a common cause and as a social activity. It can be mentally and sometimes physically demanding, but that's good isn't it? Slowly but surely I am seeing the results of our efforts. It would be really good to engage more with the 50 or so boat owners who are already using these waters. We are planning for a 'water' event, in conjunction with Bridgwater Town Council, other interested parties and again willing volunteers, to commemorate the 21st year of the reopening of the Bridgwater & Taunton Canal in June of 2015.
What’s your proudest IWA moment?
The proudest moment to date has got to be the raising of local funds, which I volunteered to project manage, to enable the dredging of about 150 metres/ approximately 400 tons of the Firepool Lock to the River Tone channel link. This once again allowed boaters to gain access to Taunton Town Centre, much to the amazement of local shoppers, many of whom told us they had never witnessed such a boat gathering for many, many, years! I believe there will be more 'proud moments' along the 15 miles of this beautiful, yet sadly under rated navigation.
What would you say to a volunteer considering starting up regular work parties with their local IWA branch?
If there are others who would like to encourage volunteers, then have in your mind, at least, a 5 year plan! Then you need to find some similarly minded people to coordinate work with you in some small but well publicised projects. It's surprising what local newspapers will help with so make direct contact with them. Don't forget that CRT own the canals and need to be kept in the picture at all times and they can offer help because they also need organised volunteer groups. Last, very important Point: IWA Head Office will do all it can in support and you can throw all sorts of ideas at them, and they just love it!
Thank you to Bob for this interview. If Bob's expereinces have inspired you to get involved, get in touch with your local branch or see how you can volunteer with IWA. Perhaps you could answer Bob's plea for a volunteer who could join the committee to deal with media, website and publicity tasks. If so, contact Bob at firstname.lastname@example.org or Stefanie Preston at IWA Head Office at email@example.com or on 01494 783 453 ext.610.