David Struckett - Volunteer of the Month January 2016
David Struckett is the Branch Chairman for IWA Birmingham, Black Country & Worcestershire Branch and a member of IWA's Navigation Committee.
He has been an avid supporter of IWA for many years and has a wealth of boating and waterways experience.
How and when did you first become interested in inland waterways?
It was probably when I was about 12 and had been given a canvas canoe – we lived only a hundred yards from the Thames at Sunbury (I just about remember it flooding half way up the road when I was three!). Reading about the Basingstoke Canal and Greywell Tunnel when still at school, learning to sail when in the Sea Scouts, and then seeing working boats on the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union Canal during my apprenticeship years (being towed by tractors at that time!)
When did you first become involved with IWA?
I learned of IWA during our first canal cruise, on the Oxford Canal in 1965. I joined in 1969, after which I helped with the Guildford Rally. Attending rallies and digs was sporadic however until we moved to Worcestershire in 2005 (by which time they were called festivals and work-parties!).
You are currently the Chairman for IWA Birmingham Black Country & Worcestershire Branch. What does this role involve?
Fortunately I have a splendid committee who know the area better than I do – though I’m fast learning! So chairing meetings – and attending other meetings e.g. CRT, canal societies, project meetings etc, and keeping people in touch is what I can do best at present. I also organise our currently rather modest work parties, and help with bigger ones, and help with stalls at festivals when possible.
What projects are you involved in as a member of the Navigation Committee?
The Winding Hole campaign started by Ian Fletcher caught my interest because I think it's fundamental for navigability, that all sizes of boat on a canal should be able to turn easily. I’m concerned about commercial implications (for navigation authorities and businesses) and environmental reasons (fuel economy, reduction in turbulence, saving water) as much as for the convenience of the private boater. I wrote a paper now on the website, to draw attention to minimum requirements of size, dredging, frequency etc, of these spaces.
The discussions with the Environment Agency – both transfer to CRT and the handling of policy changes for smaller rivers, not to mention the severe under-funding at present, are also high on my agenda.
Working with other organisations such as Canoe Britain is also important, and as I canoe as well as motor around the waterways (and in between have owned two barges on the Thames) I have a wide range of perspective!
My paper on mooring is intended to encourage sensible ‘tying up’ to prevent movement along the canal – the principal cause of bumping, damage, loss of hold and annoyance.
My next paper will be on ‘navigations that were never built’ – so will be just historical – but will include at least one thought-provoking statement for potential canal planners....do keep an eye on IWA's Blog for this shortly.
You have been leading work parties on the Staffs & Worcester Canal for some time – what changes have you seen to this waterway?
I now live only a few doors from the Staffs & Worcestershire Canal in Stourport but first cruised this way in 1968, so I’m aware of many changes here – small and large. The essential thing is that this was the first ‘through route’ canal from one side of the country to the other to be opened – it linked the River Severn and the River Trent (the first ‘Severn-Trent’ water concern!). The point is that it remains much as it was as a navigable canal throughout that time – it was never closed or required restoration, and British Waterways (now CRT) maintained most of the walls, gates and gear as required.
The buildings along the way however, have changed a lot – Kidderminster and the carpet industry particularly. Many small footbridges which had a gap – the ‘split bridges’ have had gaps closed, handrails have been installed, bollards have appeared, and several new bridges have been built. And the view across the upper Basin now has a pontoon full of boats occupying it.
Himalayan Balsam has appeared, which we try to keep down, at least in the Wyre Forest area, the subject of some of our work parties.
And boats! Back in 1968 cruisers were often of the wood or GRP type, as well as converted working boats, often cut in half. Now there’s a predominance of 50–70 foot boats. In the days when everyone’s dream was ‘what can you do with a 56 foot hull’, the obviously wonderful layout populised by the hire industry has lead to everyone wanting the same. It is certainly better than buying a caravan, but much more expensive! As I’m also a Boat Safety Examiner, I see many different boats and moorings both on the canal and on the River Severn, which is both a pleasure and interesting from the Association’s viewpoint.
You were once a residential boater. What are the main challenges residential boaters face? What is the best aspect of being a residential boater?
I took my family to live on a Humber Keel in 1976. A mooring was found relatively easily, although once we were forced to carry on up the Thames rather than to expect to fit a 14ft 10inch beam into the Hanwell flight!
Finding a mooring is now essential in my opinion – even if you want to do a lot of cruising – you cannot rely on shifting a bit along the towpath, with so many people innocently thinking the same, especially near to cities. But there are not enough economical moorings available for residential use.
There is a market for more traditional but short boats, that people can play with. They would also be much more economical, more fun, go anywhere, and could be moored more easily at garden moorings and short off line communities, rather than marinas, so would be a useful introductory residence for a younger person.
The joys however of residential boats range from the waterway atmosphere (even when it's the rising mist in the mornings), the community, the possibility of going on a cruise at the drop of a hat, but most – your friends, colleagues and family will want to visit (or in our case your children's school friends!). Keep a dinghy or canoe handy – it will be useful for offering rides, fishing dogs or people out (or even fish), getting to the other side, or even exercise if you've been indoors or at a computer all day!
Of course it's hard work – carrying cylinders, coal and shopping, attending to water, sanitation and keeping everything working, getting to and from transport for work and other needs, and finding time to do anything else that interests you, is tough going. The winter is worst – with rising water levels (towpath flooded!), ice and snow, and keeping warm.
We spent four years afloat, but look back with very fond memories.
What do you enjoy most about volunteering with IWA?
That’s difficult – there are many pleasures within the Association, such as festivals, social meetings, work parties (digging, grappling, litter picking, vegetation clearance, helping CRT in a number of ways, etc), the AGM, meeting people, discussing problems and aspirations with canal authorities. For example our Branch is promoting the Bradley locks proposals, as well as supporting the Lapal Canal Trust at this time. Also witnessing the activities and progress of various canal societies of which we have a lot in this area, including sharing their worries too on occasions.
What is your proudest IWA moment?
On hearing that our elder daughter Alison was to receive an honour from the Queen – ‘for services to the waterways’ (i.e. her voluntary work with IWA at various levels, ever since she left home!). My wife Elizabeth and I were chuffed, to put it mildly. Our 4-year sojourn on Tom Newbound (the Humber Keel) and waterway interest at home and holidays had obviously had an impact! We were of course also pleased that some time after that, Alison was offered a job at IWA.
Prior to my appointment as Branch Chairman, I had chaired the Severn Navigation Restoration Trust – which we closed down in favour of IWA in 2012. After that I became Branch Chairman for BBCW Branch, which I was pleased to associate with my previous work with SNRT. One day we will ensure that a more mature programme is discussed for the whole of the River Severn – as it has potential for improvement in environmental ways as well as navigation, not to mention flood and low flow problems which could be eased. Meanwhile I’m pleased to be able to represent our Branch and Worcestershire, in discussions with the South Wales & Severn CRT Waterway.
A small but different pleasure occurred last year – I organised some bell-ringing along the length of the Worcester & Birmingham Canal in connection with its 200th anniversary. I’ve been ringing all my adult life and this is my ‘other’ interest away from boating, so was a rare opportunity to combine these two major influences in our family’s life.
What would you say to someone considering volunteering with their local IWA Branch?
It's easy for a retired person to say "just get in there and do some work – you'll enjoy it!" But the truth is that volunteering on a regular or seasonal basis is appropriate for all ages. In these days of intense pressure in our working conditions it is essential to have a recreational outlet, even more so than in my youth (in the 1960s say, when hobbies were normal) – and an outdoor activity that can help restore or maintain an environmental gem of a waterway system is an immense privilege. Any structured tasks that are suggested in this movement are possible – and there are many potential leaders who can guide the way.
Many of our Branches now hold their own work-parties, some mid-week, some at week-ends, sometimes in partnership with a local canal society or navigation authority, or even IWA's Waterway Recovery Group. They will also train you in many skills, on week long work camps so you will meet others, and enjoy any success achieved (usually with some suitable refreshment!).
So if you haven't – go on - get in touch! We will be pleased to meet you, and I'm sure you will appreciate what we do.
Thank you to David for this interview. If David's experiences have inspired you to get involved take a look at IWA Birmingham, Black Country & Worcestershire's regular work parties or the work of the Navigation Committee.Back