Christine Smith - Volunteer of the Month July 2013

Created on 07/11/2013

Christine Smith is a branch newsletter editor, website editor and publicity officer doing bits for both South London and North & East London Branch. She's also played a huge role in organising past Canalway Cavalcades with 2013 being particularly successful. With so many roles and two branches to work with how does she keep on top of it all? Read on to see why she loves our waterways so much and how this led to her volunteering with IWA as well as why the recruitment of new volunteers is so important.

How and when did you first become interested in inland waterways?
In 1966 through my then fiancé Alan. He had been introduced to the inland waterways by his maternal grandmother, who took him on Jason's Trip from Little Venice to Camden. She then bought him a book called 'abc Canals' published by Ian Allan. We went on our first canal cruise, with friends on a hire boat with a somewhat unreliable outboard from Red Rose Cruisers, from Hillmorton to Berkhamsted on the Northern Oxford and Grand Union canals. There were still working boats plying their trade then and their crews were very helpful when we broke down (frequently!).

Why do you think our waterways are so important?
For so many reasons! Boating, walking, fishing all provide wonderful leisure opportunities, with a chance to see parts of the landscape you wouldn't normally be able to see from a viewpoint you wouldn't normally get - the New Main Line at Smethwick for example is an oasis of natural beauty. They are a link to our past - they were, after all, the motorways of their time and played a vital role in the industrial revolution. The architecture and archaeology are endlessly fascinating - you can see 200 year old canal structures under the most modern landmarks - Farmers Bridge locks under the BT Tower in Birmingham, for example. They are havens for birds and other creatures townies seldom get the chance to see - nothing beats the sight of a buzzard wheeling overhead, a kingfisher speeding along the bank, or an otter curiously bobbing up and down.

How and when did you first get involved in volunteering for IWA?
We were relative late comers to IWA and, although we had been boating on and off since 1966, we didn't actually join until 2004. Our first foray into volunteering for IWA (Alan had previously been involved in various restoration projects e.g. ASHTAC in 1972 and Lock 1 on The Basingstoke Canal) was when we joined South London Branch Committee in March 2008. Alan became Social Secretary and I became Publicity Officer.

What do you do as an IWA volunteer?
I produce a joint newsletter for South London and North & East London branches 3 or 4 times a year; (try) to keep the branch pages on the IWA website up to date; publicise the social meetings, which Alan organises, via the waterways media and local press. I produce publicity material for the branch display stand, and help to run the Waterways Game - an unusual tombola with tickets describing canals all over the country and the winning tickets being navigable ones. Until recently I also did the publicity, organised a raffle and did site/services administration for Canalway Cavalcade. Alan and I also give presentations to outside organisations and donate the proceeds to the IWA.

What do you enjoy most about volunteering with IWA?
Meeting people with interesting stories to tell about their experiences on the waterways; watching thousands of people enjoying Canalway Cavalcade after months of discussion and hard work; seeing the joy on someone's face when their Waterways Game ticket says 'navigable'!

What is your proudest IWA moment?
I have three: getting over 30 people into a tiny room in Croydon for a South London Branch Social talk by Richard Thomas - it was standing room only; raising over £4000 in the Cavalcade Raffle last year and getting an item about Cavalcade published in the Guardian Travel Section this year after 5 years of trying!

How do you manage to juggle so many volunteer roles?
With immense difficulty! We are very short of younger, capable, willing committee members to share the load and the more of us who fall off our perches (we recently lost our Chairman, Alan Eggby, very suddenly) the worse it will get and, as has been seen elsewhere e.g. Hertfordshire, branches will just close down.

Thank you to Christine for this interview. If Christine's expereinces have inspired you to get involved take a look at our many volunteer opportunities to find one that suits you.

Tags: Volunteer of the Month