As part of the NU Creative Volunteering scheme I spent a day helping to maintain a canal. I am passionate about caring for London’s waterways and loved the chance to get involved.

Waterways matter

I live on a narrowboat cruising London’s canals and river. My commute to work at NU Creative varies depending on which part of London I’m exploring. Yesterday I was cooking dinner with a pair of swans and their young signets feeding outside my window. The waterways provide vital habitats for plants and animals.

Being close to nature is good for the soul, and London’s canals are popular for walking, running, cycling, meeting with friends and finding a moment for reflection. The canals have a rich history and played a vital role in the Industrial Revolution.

Why help is needed

London’s canals date from 1766 and maintaining them is a big job. The Canal and River Trust is a charity who cares for 2,000 miles of waterways in England and Wales. The license fee paid by boaters like myself to the CRT makes a significant contribution, but it is not enough to maintain the canals to the standard we enjoy. Hundreds of volunteers support the CRT and without their efforts over the years the waterways would be very different places.

When NU Creative offered me the opportunity to volunteer for a day I jumped at the chance to help care for the canals I love.

TowPath Taskforce

I braved the heat on the hottest day of the year so far and volunteered to join a CRT Towpath Taskforce helping to maintain Widewater Lock. Locks are essential for canals to function and are very expensive to replace. Our focus for the day was to repaint the lock, its bollards, and the nearby railings, fences and signage.

Another taskforce volunteer and I worked alongside two local volunteer lockkeepers and a local CRT maintenance crew. The CRT boat, The Pride of Uxbridge, was moored nearby. It is a floating crane/digger, skip, tool transport and break room in one. After a safety briefing aboard I was hard at work sanding the lock down to a sound surface ready to paint.

Left: The canal gates needed some TLC. Right: I start to paint the ladder railings.

It was a beautiful cloudless day, in a lovely location. However, it was hot labouring in the 33-degree heat. I shielded my neck from the beating sun with a tea towel underneath my cap and kept reapplying sunscreen so that my fair skin wouldn’t burn.

The team was very welcoming and I enjoyed hearing people’s stories. The time flew past and soon we had prepared all the surfaces and moved on to priming and painting. The lock colour scheme is practical, using white for visibility and black on areas prone to grease and dirt.

It is a big job and while we didn’t manage to finish in that day, the lock had been transformed and every surface was protected by at least one coat of paint. It was a good feeling working in a team for a cause that I’m passionate about. I left tired, but happy, and possibly slightly jealous of the crew who would get to return the next day.