Women of WRG - Waterway Recovery Group

Created on 08/03/2016

For International Women’s Day, this year we turned our attentions to the Women of WRG!  These are just some of the women who spend their free time driving diggers, pouring concrete and rebuilding lock walls to restore Britain's lost waterways.

Find out why ‘the Women of WRG’ love getting their hands dirty on IWA's Waterway Recovery Group Canal Camps...

Melanie from Wiltshire

How long have you been volunteering for WRG?‎  My first camp was in 1997 before Uni. I had 10 years off whilst I lived abroad but have been volunteering since my return to the UK in 2007.

What canal restoration projects have you been involved in?  Canal Camps on the Mont, Basingstoke, Stroudwater Navigation, weekend digs with London WRG and KESCRG, helping at numerous waterways festivals and I used to be membership director for the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust.

What new skills have you learned?‎  Teamwork, leadership and motivation skills, the importance of being able to get on with people from different backgrounds, public speaking, electrical testing, site electrics at festivals, bricklaying, concrete pouring, dumper driving, loading and securing plant ready for transit to other sites.

Favourite moment:‎ Seeing squaddies do a double take as they jogged past me driving a dumper up and down the towpath on the Basingstoke - not sure they expected to a dumper being driven by a woman!

Most rewarding moment:‎ Hiring a boat for my mum's 60th birthday and boating through Vines Park on the Droitwich Barge Canal - pushing open the gates using the lock quadrants I helped install was fab!

Kirsty from Cheshire

How long have you been volunteering for WRG?  I have been volunteering with WRG for over 17 years but have been involved with IWA since I was old enough to walk!

What canal restoration projects have you been involved in?  I spent many years on the Grand Western Canal in the South West. I have worked on the Montgomery,  Mon & Brec,  Droitwich and Ashby Canal.  Recently I have been involved in the current project of restoring the Grantham Canal in Lincolnshire.

What new skills have you learned?  I have gained valuable skills, which aren't just useful in the construction industry, they have helped in other aspects of life. WRG attracts a huge range of people so the ability to talk anyone is one of the main skills I’ve learned!  On a camp you could be working alongside an 18 year old student, a 65 year old retired military veteran and a 37 year old veterinary nurse… but everyone will be working together, chatting away about life whilst digging mud, or laying bricks!

Favourite moment:  When I realised I was in love with a fellow WRGie. Now, after 6 years together we are looking forward to celebrating our wedding with the majority of guests all from WRG. We are proud to call them our mutual friends and they are practically family.

Most rewarding moment:  Being chosen to lead the National Waterways Festival at Beale Park in august 2010. I had wanted to lead a festival for so many years so once being given that chance I was determined to do my best and prove myself was really rewarding.

Emma from Bristol 

How long have you been volunteering for WRG? 4 years

What canal restoration projects have you been involved in?  Herefordshire & Gloucestershire; Chelmer & Blackwater; Cotswold canals; Swansea; Uttoxeter; Somerset Coal Canal; Wilts and Berks; BCN clean-up; and various canal festivals.

What new skills have you learned?  The difference between a spade and a shovel was one of first skills learnt! Scrub bashing; cement mixing; brick laying and pointing; mixing and using lime mortar; dry-stone wall building; boat handling; making French drains; using large variety of hand tools …. importance of moving fast when "seconds" is called at mealtimes!

Favourite moment:  Being invited to opening of Over extension on Herefordshire & Gloucestershire Canal and actually sitting on a boat going down length of new canal I helped towards creating! 

Most rewarding moment:  Coordinating and helping five new volunteers to move two large coping stones and set in place next to quoin stone for the new lock-gate. I was the most experienced WRGie there and had never done such a task before.

We also asked some first time volunteers what they thought of WRG Canal Camps…

Dorota from Poland

What’s your day job involve?  I am a PHD student (biotechnology)

Why did you book on a WRG Canal Camp?  I came on the camp, because I like to do some volunteer work during holidays - and WRG was the only thing I found in February.

For me it is also rather cheap way to travel abroad.

What new skills did you learn?  I operated the excavator for 10 minutes for the first time ever. It was great fun!

Favourite moment?  It is really difficult to choose what I enjoyed most …because the whole week was amazing.

Maybe sunbathing on the top of the huge pile of asphalt during the tea break!

Sangha from Cambridge

What’s your day job involve?  I was working in a healthcare consultancy until recently and am now taking a few months off from work before I start my PhD course this autumn.

Why did you book on a WRG Canal Camp?   I had known about WRG Camps for some time but had never had the opportunity to do one given that it usually requires a week-long commitment. I love volunteering and I love working outdoors. I had some free time, so it was the perfect opportunity for me to try one of these camps. 

What new skills did you learn?  There are so many. I hadn’t been on a residential camp before. Working with others, and learning to enjoy the moment, whatever the situation! I got to use an excavator and mini dumper in and I certainly picked up some new skills along the way. 

Favourite moment?  It is difficult to pick just one. It was a fantastic week with a lot of wonderful new experiences. The moment that is most memorable is when I knocked down all the pins at my very first attempt at tenpin bowling during an after-work social activity organised by the camp leaders! 

2016 Canal Camps

IWA's Waterway Recovery Group attracts a wide range of volunteers, from young volunteers taking part in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme; to waterway enthusiasts who wish to make a contribution to restoring and preserving the system; to teachers, doctors and office workers who want to do something completely different for their summer holidays… basically anyone who wants to have fun!  

This year WRG will run 35 Canal Camps at 16 different sites in 2016, providing places for up to 580 volunteers to help restore some of the country’s best-loved waterways.

Find out more about Canal Camps.

See also: For International Women's Day in 2015, we looked through the history books and picked out some of the most influential women of the inland waterways.

Tags: Things to Do, Restoration