Make a Difference on Your Local Waterway

Created on 05/06/2015

Has Volunteers’ Week inspired you to get involved and make a difference? If so, there are plenty of ways to do just that on the waterways across England and Wales. Whether you’re interested in carrying out practical restoration work on a derelict waterway, want to help improve your local canal or river on IWA’s Cleanups and work parties, or are keen to support your local branch as a committee member, there’s an opportunity for you. Read on to see what you could find yourself doing.

IWA Branch Work Parties

IWA Northampton Branch volunteers paint Lock 2 (Northampton Arm), 22-03-15 2Photo: IWA Northampton Branch volunteers paint Lock 2 on the Northampton Arm

Many of IWA’s local branches hold work parties, where volunteers meet to carry out activities that help improve the waterways, throughout the year. Some work parties are held monthly whilst others happen a few times a year, but all are good fun and make a visible difference to the condition of canals and rivers, tidying up local areas and helping to cultivate a healthy environment. Volunteers on IWA work parties can find themselves re-laying towpaths, painting locks, hedge laying, litter picking, installing picnic benches and much more. To get a taste of the range of work parties held, take a look at our monthly work party report blog.

If you are interested in joining a work party local to you, take look at our calendar for forthcoming work parties. You can also contact Alison Smedley or Stefanie Preston at IWA Head Office or your local branch for more information.

IWA’s Himalayan Balsam Campaign

IWA North Staffordshire & South Cheshire Branch volunteers tackle Himalayan Balsam from the water and the bank on the Caldon CanalPhoto: IWA North Staffordshire & South Cheshire Branch volunteers tackle Himalayan Balsam from the water and the bank on the Caldon Canal

Following an Awareness Week in May, the growing season for the invasive plant species, Himalayan Balsam, is underway. Once again, IWA is holding a national campaign to tackle it. Himalayan Balsam is an invasive plant that can damage the waterway environment negatively affecting wildlife, boaters and anglers. Each year IWA branches hold Himalayan Balsam work parties to remove the plant on their local waterways to help control its spread and reduce its prevalence.

If you would like to get involved with the campaign to root out this invasive plant, take a look at the list of IWA’s Himalayan Balsam Work Parties taking place round the country in June and July.

Waterway Recovery Group Canal Camps

Volunteers bricklaying at BrimscombePhoto: Volunteers bricklaying at Brimscombe

IWA’s Waterway Recovery Group (WRG) provides a great way for volunteers to get outdoors and meet new people whilst bringing derelict waterways back to life. Through WRG's programme of Canal Camps, volunteers can learn all sorts of new skills from bricklaying and heritage skills to operating excavators, all as part of projects to restore navigations through rebuilding lock chambers, relining canals, laying towpaths and much more.

On Canal Camps, groups of up to twenty volunteers spend a week carrying out essential restoration work on derelict waterways. Whether you are a complete beginner or have tried your hand at restoration work before, you will be guided through the tasks and have a chance to learn new skills. Camps cost £56 for the week and include all your food and accommodation.

The best news is that you’re not too late to sign up for a Canal Camp this year, as there are still spaces on the following sites.

Lock Restoration on the Swansea Canal, 18th – 25th July

Work on the Swansea Canal this year will involve lock repairs and bank protection. Volunteers will be working on Trebanos Lock, repointing the chamber walls and repairing the wing walls of the lower two locks. Lime mortar and thin courses of stone (rather than bricks) will be used in this work, following a traditional technique to preserve the locks’ Welsh history.

Hone Your Bricklaying skills on the Ashby Canal, 8th – 15th August and 15th – 22nd August

Rebuilt your garden wall recently and fancy a bigger bricklaying challenge? Then join these camps where WRG needs your help to restore two bridges on the Ashby Canal. Bridge 62 is just north of Snarestone and once contractors have put in the foundations WRG volunteers will be helping rebuild the rest of the bridge. Bridge 41 (Jackson’s Bridge) is on the navigable length on the canal and volunteers will be involved in repointing, repairing and replacing damaged brickwork on the historic brick arch bridge.

Sunny Week on the Stover Canal, 22nd – 29th August and 29th August – 5th September

Ok maybe we can’t promise sunshine but these camps will give you a chance get involved right at the start of the restoration of the first of Stover Canal’s five locks. Volunteers will be working at Graving Dock Lock, a Grade 2 listed historic granite-built structure, taking down the damaged stonework and beginning the rebuilding process. We’ll also be carrying out some towpath repairs nearby.

Something for the Weekend?

Like the sound of Canal Camps but can’t dedicate a whole week? Then join one of the regional WRG groups for a weekend of restoration. WRG's regional groups organise weekend canal restoration 'digs' for volunteers throughout England, and sometimes Wales. Work can be anything from restoring a lock on the Cotswold Canals to clearing vegetation on the Somersetshire Coal Canals. Much like Canal Camps, there really is something for everyone just in a smaller package! Volunteers meet on the Friday night, and spend Saturday and Sunday working on site, before heading home tired but happy on the Sunday afternoon. Find out more.

Join a Committee

Volunteer mans children's activity stand organised by IWA Chiltern Branch committee at Rickmansworth FestivalPhoto: Volunteer mans children's activity stand organised by IWA Chiltern Branch committee at Rickmansworth Festival

Not all our volunteer opportunities are based on the waterways system or involve getting dirty! We also have a dedicated band of volunteers on our branch, region and national committees that do a lot of important work behind the scenes and always welcome extra help.

Branch and Region Committees

Branch committees run the local IWA branches and have a chair, secretary and treasurer plus a variety of other members that take on roles such as newsletter editor, website editor, work party leader and social secretary. Region committees each support a group of branches that are represented on the committee. These are vital roles that make IWA’s work at a local level happen by raising awareness and funds and improving our waterways.

If you think you could support your local branch committee with skills you already have, or would like to try something new to help develop new skills, take a look at our list of opportunities. Can’t see anything for you on your local branch committee? Then get in touch with them, as they’ll be keen to hear what help you can offer.

National Committees

National committees include Navigation Committee, Restoration Committee, Marketing Committee, Events Committee and Promotions & Communications Committee, amongst others. Each committee is made up of volunteers and has particular responsibilities. For instance, Navigation Committee keeps a watchful eye over navigation issues across the country and organises big campaigns where necessary, as well as doing a lot of work in the background. These committees again welcome offers of help from volunteers either as members or in specific consultation roles if you have a particular expertise you could offer. Take a look at the opportunities currently available to find out more.

As you can see there are loads of opportunities to get involved with IWA and WRG if you’ve been inspired to get involved this Volunteers’ Week. For more information visit IWA and WRG’s volunteer pages or contact Head Office. We’re looking forward to seeing you volunteering with us soon!

Interested in volunteering with IWA and want to know more? Contact Alison Smedley at or on 01538 385 388 or Stefanie Preston at or on 01494 783 453.

Want to know more about volunteering with WRG? Contact Jenny Black at or Amber Jenkins at or call them on 01494 783 453.