Jude Palmer - Volunteer of the Month December 2015

Jude Palmer
Created on 10/12/2015

Jude has been at the heart of IWA's Waterway Recovery Group for nearly 26 years. Jude first started canal ‘digging’ with Kent and East Sussex Canal Restoration Group (KESCRG) in 1989, but, through family connections, she was already an avid supporter of the waterways and waterway restoration.

In recent years Jude has focused much of her energy on publicising WRG and waterways restoration at festivals, on local radio and promotional videos, as well as dedicating much time and effort in the background as a member of the WRG Board ensuring WRG’s volunteering activities run smoothly and safely.

Jude Palmer is one of four finalists for Towpath Talk's "Volunteer of the Year" award, with the winner due to be announced early 2016.

Why did you first become involved with WRG?

I'd done lots of volunteering as a kid on the IWA sales stand with my Dad, Dave Moore (who was the IWA South East region chairman for several years). He also used to go digging - so once I was old enough and turned 17 in the June, he suggested I should try volunteering with WRG and KESCRG at the Waltham Abbey National Festival in 1989. After all, if I didn't like it, it was only 40 minutes to get home! I loved it, so much so, I went home on the middle weekend to my Saturday job and handed my notice in as I knew I wanted to keep digging at weekends. Two weeks later I was working on the Montgomery Canal, and the rest as they say is history!

What do you enjoy most about volunteering with WRG?

The people (and the hard graft and copious mud of course), but really the people.  I started digging as I just felt I had found the bunch of people I wanted to spend my time with. Over the years it's gained me my husband [WRG Chairman, Mike Palmer], my closest circle of friends, four gorgeous God Children, and as someone who's worked all over the UK, the BEST set of B&Bs ever!

Pretty much every day/weekend/week spent with WRG has involved a huge amount of laughter!

What does a typical day on a WRG Canal Camp (if there is such thing) involve for you?

For me nowadays it usually starts about an hour and half or so ahead of everyone else as I get up to cook breakfast.  Once everyone's on their way to site it's probably popping a cake in the oven and getting eggs on to boil for lunch.  Then it's clear down the kitchen, do all the fridge/freezer temperature checks, wash some tea towels etc.  If it's a really cool hall, it's got a shower so I can de-breakfast! As a veggie I don't mind cooking meat at all - but that weird bacon 'glaze' you get after breakfast is rather grim to wear as your perfume all day! 

I then make lunch for the Camp, and then clear down the kitchen once more, and sit down with a cuppa to sort through the shopping list.  I then drop lunch down to site and say hello to everyone. 

Then it's off to the shops, and back home to the hall to start getting dinner ready from about 3pm onwards, most times that's a meat and a veggie main course, and a dessert, plus any additional dietary specials we need to cater for.  I don't have a sweet tooth - I have been known to forget to make a dessert (but there's always cake and instant custard in my kitchen so I can save it before they realise and continue to look vaguely in control!). 

When everyone arrives back from site, we sort through the lunch and brew kit returns to see what's needed for tomorrow.  Dinner's usually around 7ish, after which once the Camp has done the washing up (thank you!!) I just check over the kitchen, put away any leftovers, check levels of stuff to start the shopping list for the next day.

What’s your favourite meal to make on Canal Camp?

I really enjoy making a curry with all the bits for everyone. I've been veggie for over 25 years. It always makes me laugh that even the hardened meat eaters always want to try my veggie dishes. In fact, I don't know what any of the meat dishes taste like that I send out - I usually have to get a taster guinea pig from the Camp once they're back to check it's OK. No complaints so far - apart from a slight incident with the measurement of black pepper at a Basingstoke Reunion. In my defence it was really cold cooking outside in a tent in November and I may have lost focus for a moment as I tried to remember if I could feel my feet...

As well as being involved with various aspects of leading, cooking and preparing for Camps you are also a WRG Director. What are the most challenging aspects of this role?

I guess it's being Duty Director for a Camp - there's just that little thing in the back of your mind all that week that if the Camp leader does call, they really need you to be calm and helpful as they've likely got a problem they really need some support on.  Our Camp leaders are amazing to take on all they do as volunteers so I hope being Duty Director really does give them an added layer of support - even if they don't need to call me, I hope they know I'm there and they always can call - no matter how small the question.

In your opinion, why is the work of WRG so important?

I have a degree in history and archaeology - so I'm passionate about social history and maintaining structures so we can learn and watch how they develop from one use to a new one.  I love old buildings and also nature.  Canals have a fascinating history, they were integral to how the UK's towns and rural areas and resources connected.  It's an amazing piece of history - and I love how in my lifetime, particularly in inner city areas, they have turned from being hidden to the focus.  I have my Dad and Mum to thank for my love of canals.

Most importantly I think WRG has been brilliant for lots of people in lots of ways - new skills, building confidence, providing a 'family', which maybe they don't have elsewhere, and being a support for smaller groups of enthusiasts so their local project can fly.

What’s your proudest WRG moment?

There's lots of great projects I've worked on - The Mont, The Droitwich (it was so amazing doing the Van Appeal sponsored walk along it - proper tear jerking stuff!), Over Basin.  Boating through a lock 'wot I built'  is a great feeling.  Running Dig '95 with 750 volunteers for our 25th in 1995 was a brilliant experience.  The Cotswold Canals Trust guys were fantastic and completely got WRG Chaos Theory.  Writing the 'History of WRG in 40 Objects' for our 40th anniversary in 2010,  I can now look back and smile. I think it's the one time me and Mr Palmer really picked off something bigger than we could chew.  It was a monster - but came good in the end, as it always does with WRG!!

Proudest moment though has to be this summer and seeing Mike's name in The Times as he was awarded his MBE - so deserved, and as he says, it's also recognition of the work we do in WRG.

Why should people book on a Canal Camp in 2016?

Where else can you eat great food all made for you, meet an interesting and eclectic range of people (some of whom could end up as friends for life), try your hand at a range of new skills and experiences (digger driving, brick-laying, wader-wearing, mud shovelling), acquire eccentric tan lines depending on where your boots/socks/wellies finished, add value to the countryside and leave a legacy for many centuries to come.  Oh, and laugh like a drain most of the time too - you can't do that on a sun lounger... Right, I'm off to the shops, anyone need anything whilst I'm there?...

Thank you to Jude for this interview. If Jude's experiences have inspired you to get involved take a look at WRG's 2016 Canal Camps.

Vote for Volunteer of the Year in Towpath Talk.