Eli Mathieson - Volunteer of the Month April 2016

Eli Mathieson
Created on 11/04/2016

Eli has been involved with Waterway Recovery Group since 1993 and has established herself as one of the best Camp Cooks.  She has extensive experience of cooking for Canal Camps and other WRG events such as the Barn Dance in March, where she cooked for over 80 hungry dancing WRGies!

When and how did you become interested in the waterways?

I'd been on a couple of family boating holidays when I was growing up, but other than that I didn't know much about the waterways prior to getting involved with Waterway Recovery Group.

How did you find out about Waterway Recovery Group and what motivated you to book your first Canal Camp?

My first camp was Christmas 1993. I was persuaded to go along by some friends who had previously been on Canal Camps as part of the Duke of Edinburgh scheme. I really wasn't sure what to expect or whether it was going to be my type of thing, but I ended up meeting a great group of people and have been involved since then.

How did you get involved with cooking on camps?

WRG was looking for cooks for the summer camps in 1994 and I was approached to see if I was willing cook on one of the Mont camps as they knew that I cooked a lot at home. I come from a big family and was used to feeding lots of hungry people so I didn't have to think about it for too long before saying yes.

Cooking for a large number of people can be quite intimidating. What tips have you got for anyone considering being the Camp Cook?

1) Pick dishes to cook that you are comfortable making, you don't need the added stress of trying a recipe for the first time when you have a camp full of hungry people waiting to be fed.

2) Cooking for 20 is not that different from cooking for 4, you just have more ingredients so the preparation is going to take a bit longer and the overall cooking time is likely to be a bit longer too. For most ingredients you simply need to multiply up the quantities to feed the right number of people. The exception to this rule is herbs and spices where you might not need to multiply the quantities by the full amount, start by adding less than you think you are going to need and add you can always add more once you have had a chance to check the taste.

3) Check that you have the right number of pans/oven trays before you start (and that any oven trays fit the oven!)

4) Write a to do list - so you don't forget something important

5) Ask for help from the other volunteers on the camp if you need an extra pair of hands, the cook is a volunteer like everyone else.

Describe a typical cook's day on a Canal Camp.

The day for the cook starts early if you are on breakfast duty, first thing to do is to get the sausage and bacon on and to ensure that the burco is heating up ready for making tea.

Once the volunteers are fed and off to site, then it's time for a quick sit down to plan for the rest of the day finalise the menu for the evening and to write up a shopping list before heading out to the supermarket to obtain supplies for the rest of the day.

After tackling the food shop and putting it all way, then it's time to prepare lunch and to make sure it gets down to the volunteers on site (and hopefully the cook also finds time for a break).

The day continues with dinner preparations which go on after the volunteers are back from site.

The cook's job continues until all the volunteers have been fed, after which the cook gets a chance to relax, catch up with the other volunteers and find what everyone has been doing during the day.

It is hard work, but rewarding to know that the volunteers are happy and well fed.

Why do you think it's important to restore our waterways?

The UK’s waterways played a really important part of our industrial heritage and by restoring the canals we not only maintain that heritage, but also improve the environment in which we live and create spaces for boaters, walkers and others to enjoy.

What is your proudest achievement as a volunteer on the waterways?

One of the first canals I worked was the Droitwich which is now fully open. Living nearby it is great to see boats travelling through the town and the number of the community events which take place on or around the canal. I'm proud to have played a small part in making that possible.

What would you say to someone considering volunteering with WRG?

If you want to get involved then give it a go, everyone has something that they can bring to WRG.


Thank you to Eli for this interview. To experience Eli's cooking first hand you will need to book on a KESCRG dig! Download the 2016 Canal Camp brochure here. To find out more about becoming a camp cook, please contact Waterway Recovery Group.  You can also watch a short video introduction to WRG Canal Camps here.

If you are interested in volunteering for WRG or IWA, you can find out more on our volunteering pages.

Nominate a Volunteer

Do you have a volunteer in your branch who deserves to be featured in our "Volunteer of the Month" blog?

We would like to hear about the unsung heroes of IWA and WRG, the volunteers who give their time to support the waterways through one of the many different volunteer roles.  If you would like to nominate a Volunteer of the Month please contact the Volunteering Team at Head Office.


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