Margaret Beardsmore - Volunteer of the Month August 2013

Created on 07/11/2013

Margaret Beardsmore is the member of the IWA Lichfield Branch Committee who is responsible for running the Rugeley Regeneration Project. She organises regular work parties throughout the year that aim to really improve the canal environment in Rugeley encouraging both the locals and boaters to use the area more. She has succeeded in engaging the local community with the project as volunteers that come to lend a hand are both IWA members and non-members. They have successfully cleaned up the area, created new moorings and re-laid a footpath with plenty more on the agenda! They hope to encourage the use of the area by local townspeople as well as aiming to get more boaters stopping off and visiting the town. Margaret has perfected the art of running a series of successful work parties so read on to find out about her volunteering experience with IWA plus some excellent top tips!

How and when did you first become interested in inland waterways?
It was about 20 years ago when we first moved to Rugeley, our garden backs onto the Trent & Mersey Canal and we see the boats going backwards and forwards. I was an independent Financial Advisor and went to meet a client who happened to be a member of the IWA – we ended up speaking about the waterways for two hours and I was persuaded to attend a local meeting. Following this, I eventually joined the committee. My involvement probably stemmed from the move to Rugeley, as being involved with the local IWA branch is the perfect opportunity to meet new people and make friends. Even today, we find that many of our best volunteers are people who have recently moved into the area and are looking for a community to belong to.

What’s your favourite waterway?
The Caldon Canal because it has an interesting mix of architecture in the built up areas and natural beauty as you go out into the countryside. There are also a lot of narrow locks (which I prefer) and we can go there and back in a week.

Why do you think IWA is important?
IWA acts as a conscience – the watchdog of the waterways, providing an independent view of what’s going on. It’s also important because it’s a large credible charity with a good structure which means that in many cases it is a bit easier to attract outside grant funding, and it also has properly audited accounts. It can act as a catalyst to get bigger projects going, and support other local canal charities and restoration projects.

What do you do as an IWA volunteer?
I organise the community project events and do a bit of the work! The Rugeley project began when I became really fed up with the state of the canal through Rugeley and I thought unless I do something about it nothing will change. So myself and the then Chairman Phil Sharpe gave a presentation to the local council emphasising the need to improve the canal area – we eventually won them round. We organised a big clean-up and cleared what must have been ten years of accumulated rubbish and renovated the notice boards on the towpath (we now keep them up to date with useful information for boaters),  and after joining forces with the local Traders Association produced a Town Guide. We wanted the Town Guides on the towpath for boaters to pick up and thought BW would have a standard box to put up but they didn’t. Eventually we found a contact at Featherstone Prison and one of the prisoners made up 4 boxes for us for nothing – they look really good.

It’s really just carried on from there. We keep everything tidy, have put in new moorings and re-laid the path as far as the “Bloody Steps”. Next we need to rebuild the steps and the plan is to continue the path to make a circular walk round the Trent and Mersey Canal in Rugeley with an accompanying booklet.  We are also hoping to have boaters facilities by St. Augustine’s Field, and we are working with CRT to ensure the S106 money from the new Tesco development goes to improve the Canal in the town.

What do you particularly enjoy about volunteering with IWA?
I’ve met a lot of nice people and made a lot of friends – not all waterways people though. Volunteering with the branch means I work with people from all walks of life and I enjoy that. It’s also important to have something to keep you current once you’ve retired and this project does. We plan things, follow them through and it’s great to see the change we’re making happen.

What was the key to your recent success at the Renaissance Awards?
When you compare what IWA Lichfield Branch did with the other projects, I’m not sure how we were so successful. The other entrants were much bigger projects, with huge funds and support from big names. I guess it was probably the community involvement in the project – after all only around a third of the project volunteers are also IWA members, the rest come along because they’re members of the community we’re helping to improve. We stood out at the awards because we were so small compared to others but we’re still successful in making a difference to the waterways.

What is your top tip for running a successful community project on the waterways?
I have two:

  • Phone a friend! Don’t always think of the obvious and ask for money (it’s something I rarely do) instead at the beginning of a new phase draw up your friends list and work your way through thinking who you can call on to lend a hand or provide some equipment. For instance, when we relayed the path we hired a dumper and digger but for insurance reasons couldn’t drive them ourselves. So I phoned a friend who I knew volunteered with LHCRT and it turned out that he was now site manager and offered to come along himself with a colleague to operate the equipment.
  • Get good cakes! Find someone on the team who can make good cakes for tea breaks. If you look after your volunteers they’ll keep on coming back because they enjoy the hard work but also the social aspect of a work party.

What’s your proudest IWA moment?
Funnily enough, it isn’t the recognition we received at the Renaissance Awards. My proudest IWA moment was when we finished laying the path near the canal on the Thursday evening. The snow came down as forecast early the following day, and the path was under snow for the best part of two weeks.

Thank you to Margaret for this interview. If Margaret's expereinces have inspired you to get involved take a look at our many volunteer opportunities to find one that suits you.

Tags: Volunteer of the Month