Do London boaters want to be Volunteer Lockies?

January 2018 - Canal & River Trust is looking for yet more volunteers – this time it's lock keepers for the Grand Union, Regents and River Lee in London, as Alec Wood reports.

The Trust describes the task as the 'most iconic waterway role' and – despite the fact that British Waterways scrapped the job in most places many years ago – insists the volunteers will be keeping an historic tradition alive.

The Trust says: “We're on the lookout for people interested in volunteering at sites along the Grand Union Canal, Regent’s Canal and River Lee. The role includes helping passing boaters, welcoming visitors and giving a hand to the Trust’s teams in maintaining the canal.

“The volunteers will help to keep the historic tradition of lock-keeping alive in the capital, where lock keepers have been part of waterway life for hundreds of years. It comes at a time when London’s waterways are more popular than any time in living memory, with more boats than ever before and over 60 million towpath visits per year.”

It is also true that London has more boats than at any time this century, with many of them liveaboards. It will be interesting to see how many boaters apply for the unpaid jobs and how many are accepted.

C&RT provides training and adults of all ages and experiences are encouraged to apply. It says volunteer lock keepers work on a shift basis throughout the year, with busier periods typically expected between April-October.

Debbie Vidler, volunteer development co-ordinator, said: "The lock keeper is probably the most iconic role on the waterways and we’re on the lookout for people to come and help everyone who is using the canals.

“It’s a great role for anyone looking to work outdoors and meet plenty of people. In many ways the lock keeper is the friendly face of the canals. It can be hard work, but hugely rewarding. You don’t need any previous experience so I’d encourage anyone looking for a new challenge to get in touch."

As an example C&RT offers Freda Pashley, who has worked as a volunteer lock keeper in Camden for three years. She is one of a team of three who work there just once a week. She says: "Working as a lock keeper is great fun, especially at Camden as it’s one of the busiest locks around. A typical day will see us help up to 30 boats through the locks, but we’ll also litter pick and we get plenty of questions from tourists and other people visiting the area. We also keep a lookout for the local wildlife, like the geese and ducks, we’ve even had to rescue a mother and her chicks from the lock.

“ I didn’t have any prior knowledge about canals before starting, it was pretty daunting to be honest, but with the help of the other lock keepers I picked it up pretty quickly. It’s physical work but a good way to keep fit. In the winters we’re wrapped up in lots of layers but come the summer there can’t be many places better to work - you can get a great tan. It’s not long before you know everyone on the canal, and everyone knows you. There’s plenty of characters around and a great buzz out on the water."

Applications for the role are open until now, with training and induction beginning in March.

Photo: A v-lockie in action.

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