Mike Snaith - Volunteer of the Month

Created on 14/11/2017

Mike Snaith keeps his favourite waterway to himself, but he gives us a number of compelling reasons to spend more time by the water and why we need to protect and restore them.  As well as carrying out three significant roles in his Branch, our latest volunteer of the month contributes time to three other waterways related charities. So it's just as well that our inland waterways provide the "peace and tranquillity they bring to a busy world".

How did you first become interested in inland waterways?    

I had a family holiday back in the late ‘90s.  It turned out to be a sublime holiday. The weather was perfect. There was so much to see and do around the rural Stoke Bruerne and Braunston area, coupled with the wildlife in front of you and the rolling countryside around you, plus all that peace.  For the kids it was so different and interesting they were fully occupied for all seven days and were so tired they were off to an early bed every night.  It defined the word idyllic.

What is your favourite waterway?

Aah, now that’s one I’ll keep to myself.  I recall the lyrics of a song by the Eagles, “Call some place paradise. Kiss it goodbye”. There is a tie however for the runner up position, the Llangollen and the Leeds & Liverpool Canals. In the case of the former it is especially the section between Chirk and the terminus at Llangollen. So much has been written in the media about its beauty and grandeur I won’t go into it here but it’s all true. In the case of the latter it is especially the section between Foulridge and Skipton.  There is a point where the canal follows the contour half way up the hillside for a mile or more near East Marton and it almost turns back on itself, there are no trees and you are deep in the rolling landscape of the Yorkshire Dales. You can see for miles. You can look down onto the sheep and lambs grazing below and in front, across and behind, you will see gaily coloured narrowboats seemingly floating on and moving gently over the green grass halfway up the hillside.  It is one of the few occasions when being in a queue of boats actually enhances the day.  A surreal experience and a truly beautiful place.
Photo: Approaching Thorlby Swing Bridge on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. Photo by Adrian Rayson

Why do you think our waterways are so important?

The peace and tranquillity they bring to a busy world.  The wildlife, the scenery, the history. You set foot on the towpath and you just smile.  If you work in a stressful job being at the tiller is hard to beat.  You haven’t got time to think about what’s coming up at work next week as you have to steer round that bend, through that tight bridge and negotiate past that approaching boat and yet you have all the time you need to see the kingfishers, herons, buzzards above and all the expansive scenery around.  Our waterways are unique and we must protect them for those who follow.

How and when did you get involved in volunteering for The Inland Waterways Association?

That idyllic family holiday I mentioned above ended too soon and I was well and truly bitten by the bug.  The first thing I did on return in 1999 was go to the newsagents to ferret out any waterways magazines.  Inside was an invitation to join IWA and I signed up.  The local branch invited me to their social meeting and it turned out to be the AGM.  At the end the chairperson asked if anyone was willing to help on the organising committee so I stepped up there and then. I have been involved ever since.

What do you do as a volunteer?

I am currently the Chairman, Secretary and Planning Officer of IWA Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire Branch. I try and fulfil all those roles doing the associated activity Risk Assessments, permissions, coordination, communication and encouraging.  I represent IWA as a Director of the Derby & Sandiacre Canal Trust and as you need to take some long term decisions and provide strategic guidance I also participate in the Development Group where you are involved more closely with restoration activities and planning, which helps with more informed decisions at Board meetings.

Outside of IWA I volunteer as a crew member for the Grantham Canal Society’s trip boat, Three Shires and also crew aboard the Nottingham Crusader, a wide beam passenger carrying trip boat on the River Trent in Nottingham.  The Crusader boat is a charitable organisation catering for the disadvantaged and the disabled and when you see the joy on the faces of the passengers on a simple trip along the river you really see the power of the waterways to give wellbeing to everyone.

What do you enjoy about volunteering with The Inland Waterways Association?

The camaraderie, the friendship, the feeling of giving something back to the community. The satisfaction of being able to pass the custody of something unique on to the next generation in a sustainable condition and the great feeling that comes with receiving the baton from a previous generation that worked so incredibly hard against seemingly overwhelming odds to give us the wonderful waterways network we have today. That legacy is not being squandered. It is also the personal enjoyment of taking part in an activity that does something worthwhile and at the end of the day you can sit back and think, wow, look what’s been achieved here.

Your branch committee was down to two people at one point, how did you get new volunteers involved?

After lying dormant for some time a target came in sight in the IWA National Festival coming to Nottingham.  With something to aim at we therefore shouted for help from IWA Head Office to see if we could get support to set up a viable branch programme to entice new recruits at the National.  We received enormous help from Helen Whitehouse and Jerry Sanders in particular and with the two of us locally talking to anybody interested in waterways it slowly came together.  But I think the idea we had to ask well known waterways personalities to give talks at the launch of a new Social calendar really bore fruit.  Harry Arnold and Chris Coburn, to name but two, eagerly stepped up to the plate and were brilliant, filling the venue to the brim.  I also had several phone calls with the late David Blagrove who was so miffed he couldn’t get up here to give us a talk; he kept me on the phone for ages with his wonderful stories and support.  A great and lovely man. With all that you just couldn’t stop trying.  People joined us.

This year’s IWA Festival of Water took place in Ilkeston, how do you feel that the festival has benefited the local area?

It was great to see so many boats on the Erewash Canal, there were over a hundred and there hasn’t been that many for decades.  The event received tremendous support from local politicians and councillors so it really put waterways and their potential at the forefront of their minds.  Over the three day event the local community turned out in high numbers, many new to waterways activities and restoration projects. 

Photo: IWA Festival of Water 2017 at Ilkeston. Photo by Rupert Smedley.

Putting everything together the Festival introduced a large number of people to the current benefits of waterways in the area that they were unaware of and also gave them a firm grasp of the even greater future potential if they supported the very active local restoration projects.  Overall I think it opened the unaware eyes of a large number of local decision makers and the community as a whole.  Leisure, tourism, health, education, environmental, economic benefits were all present and seen by all.  A real mark was left in people’s minds.

How do you enjoy spending your time on the waterways?

I love walking along the towpaths watching the wildlife, the landscape and breathing in the fresh air.  I am fortunate in living close to the R. Trent and the Grantham Canal and it is a joy to be on the towpath all seasons of the year.  Likewise when I am crewing on the “Nottingham Crusader” the joy you bring to say the ailing residents of a hospice or care home is just so rewarding that you really understand the true meaning of benefits and waterways.

What is your proudest IWA moment?

Within the Branch we have a trophy which can be presented to a person that makes an outstanding contribution to waterways in the local area. It is my honour as Chairman to present this cup to the recipient.  It makes me feel very proud to recognise the unsung heroes that carry out such fantastic work that never seems to get seen.  So I would say presenting the Champion Webster cup to shed light on the outstanding work of the worthy recipient is my proudest IWA moment.

Inspired? Find out how you can get involved as a volunteer with IWA.