Mike Palmer - Volunteer of the Month July 2015

Created on 14/07/2015

Mike Palmer is currently chairman of Waterway Recovery Group but has been volunteering with them since the 1970s. As a volunteer restoring waterways he has found himself doing all sorts from mortar mixing to leading camps and collecting t-shirts to receiving an MBE! However, the real highlight of volunteering with WRG for Mike is the people that he’s shared all these experiences with. Read on to what Mike gets up to as chairman of WRG and how it all began.

How and when did you first become involved with WRG?
Ummm…..well I think my first actual appearance on site would have been the Christmas Camp on the Montgomery in 1976. But a few years before that I had had a starring role in Granada TVs “Dirty Weekenders” documentary as “Small boy who looks out of his bedroom window as his brother goes off on a dig”.

What different roles have you had with WRG since then?
A good question because in WRG we don’t get very fixated on roles, by which I mean that it’s perfectly possible to be in charge of a really complex project one moment and the next time you are just the bloke mixing mortar for the brickies. But I have been a Canal Camp leader rather a lot of times.

Has WRG changed during this time? How do you think WRG will change in the future?
This answer could probably fill many pages. Yes of course we are changing all the time but I’d like to think that if you were viewing us from 1970 we would still be recognisable.  

What does being the chairman of WRG involve?
Just remind me who is going to be reading this again? Well most of it is pretty straightforward, because in a sense, most of our operations just run themselves. Certainly that’s been (one of) WRGs strengths: because all we want to do is get out on site rather than sitting in meetings, we tend to be quite good at putting in place  systems that are flexible, practical and pretty robust. The purpose of WRG has always been to prevent having to reinvent the wheel every time you encounter a problem. And so I just get involved in the “non-standard” stuff, working with Jenny and Amber in Head Office trying to make sure that people can spend their time digging and not fretting over stuff.

What do you enjoy most about being a WRGie?
I’m pretty sure that everybody in WRG would give the same answer – the people you meet. Yes there are great and rewarding opportunities about leadership and history and archaeology and engineering and stuff. But every great memory I have about my time in WRG is always based around the amazing people it involved.

You were recently awarded an MBE for voluntary service to the restoration of British waterways, what did you think to being selected for the award?
Shocked – and it is still only just filtering through into the parts of my brain reserved for “important stuff” so you may have to wait for a proper answer to that question. But I did know right from the start that the cliché about it “not being an award for me, but for the organisation I am part of” was very true. What was great was that on the day it was announced I was at our Training Weekend in Chesterfield surrounded by great friends and having a great time with dumpers and excavators and a LOT of mud.

What would you say to anyone considering volunteering with WRG?
Absolutely give it a go. There are lots of opportunities with different regional groups and pretty much every Canal Camp has its own unique character. Give it a couple of tries and you will soon find your place.

Rumour has it you have a room dedicated to storing all your WRG t-shirts – how many do you actually have and which one’s your favourite?
Well it’s not entirely dedicated to T-shirts – there is a bed in there as well. But yes there are quite a few drawers of them. I did actually have a bit of a sort through a couple of years ago and gave a load away to charity. Though I photographed all of them before I did as my ultimate retirement project is a really geeky one - an online archive of WRG T-shirts and their history. As to which is my favourite then that’s easy – whichever one I am wearing on site this weekend!

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Thank you to Mike for this interview. If Mike's expereinces have inspired you to volunteer, take a look at our many volunteer opportunities to find one that suits you or visit the WRG website to find out more about its restoration work.

Photo: Volunteer Stephen Davis (left) and WRG chairman Mike Palmer (right) at Inglesham Lock

Tags: Volunteer of the Month

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