At 83, CRT vol­un­teer John Webb has been given a Gold Vol­un­teer Award in recog­ni­tion of the 2,000 hours he has spent help­ing to care for the K& A

Canal Boat - - Welcome -

Wa­ter­ways vol­un­teer John Webb

1 What first at­tracted you to the wa­ter­ways? A hire boat hol­i­day on the Grand Union with our three young sons back in the late 1960s. That as they say “was it”. 2

Which is your favourite canal?

Each canal in its own way is unique. The South­ern Ox­ford and the Mac­cles­field pos­si­bly top my list. Our ‘home canal’, that is the K& A be­tween Bath and Brad­ford-on-Avon, has mag­nif­i­cent scenery but is sadly spoiled by the numbers of con­tin­u­ously moored boats. 3 What do the wa­ter­ways have to of­fer the coun­try? They rep­re­sent 2,000 miles of what is in ef­fect a ‘Lin­ear Park’, it­self a po­ten­tial wildlife sanc­tu­ary with its ur­ban sec­tions of­fer­ing a cat­a­lyst for res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ment. 4 Tell us about your boat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence Per­haps two sep­a­rate phases. Ini­tially, won­der­ful fam­ily hire boat hol­i­days with our three young sons and my then wid­owed mother, and dur­ing the time when my wife Olive was teach­ing at Pri­mary School hol­i­days with up to 20 of her 10 to 12-year-old pupils on a pair of old work­ing boats. I learnt so much from Gary Ward from the le­gendary work­ing boater fam­ily, about not only their way of life afloat but also con­sid­er­ably honed my boat han­dling skills. On near­ing re­tire­ment from pro­fes­sional prac­tice in 1999 we com­mis­sioned the build­ing of the first of our two boats on which we had won­der­ful cruises ex­plor­ing with friends most of the sys­tem ‘south of Manch­ester’. 5 Have you ever fallen in? For­tu­nately, no. 6 What do the wa­ter­ways need most? Recog­ni­tion that they rep­re­sent a valu­able as­set in terms of both her­itage and as a leisure facility which must at all costs be pre­served. Facts need fac­ing as to how fund­ing is to be dealt with af­ter the cur­rent gov­ern­ment sup­port ceases to be forth­com­ing. I ap­pre­ci­ate the dif­fi­cul­ties of tack­ling this since in re­al­ity it is only boaters, who com­prise less than five per­cent of the users, who ac­tu­ally pay to use the sys­tem This is a ‘net­tle that has to be grasped’. 7

How im­por­tant are vol­un­teers?

We have an im­por­tant role to play. We con­cen­trate on jobs that would oth­er­wise not be done. The Canal & River Trust help enor­mously in pro­vid­ing tools, equip­ment and train­ing. The more of the lat­ter that they can pro­vide in­creases the range of work which vol­un­teers are able to tackle. We work on the ba­sis that we are a back up to the Canal & River Trust’s skilled labour force and it is with some pride that they ac­cept us as such. 8 What do you get up to in the work gang? The ob­vi­ous rou­tine tasks com­prise lit­ter-pick­ing, re­paint­ing lock gates, bridges plus veg­e­ta­tion man­age­ment. We have for part of the year the use of a work boat which en­ables us to tackle off­side veg­e­ta­tion man­age­ment and other tasks re­quir­ing ac­cess from the wa­ter. Other spe­cific tasks un­der­taken in­clude sundry brick­work and ma­sonry re­pairs, the ren­o­va­tion of a length­s­man’s ‘hovel’ and a Toll House, as well as hard land­scap­ing at the river/canal junc­tion. We have also re­built the last sur­viv­ing ex­am­ple of the timber wharf­side crane at Burbage. 9 What did you want to be aged 12? Af­ter be­ing evac­u­ated to ru­ral Som­er­set I re­call want­ing to be a farmer. This was soon over­come by my fas­ci­na­tion for any­thing to do with con­struc­tion. Per­haps this was in­her­ited from my pa­ter­nal grand­fa­ther who was a car­pen­ter. 10 How can we im­prove the canals? By recog­nis­ing that we have a 200-year-old in­fra­struc­ture which needs se­ri­ous money spent on it if it is to be pre­served, and both pri­ori­tis­ing and putting in place fund­ing so that the sys­tem can be saved for the ben­e­fit of fu­ture gen­er­a­tions 11 Who would be your ideal cruis­ing com­pan­ion? Olive, my wife who has put up with me for over 60 years. What bet­ter than en­joy­ing one of her won­der­ful meals ac­com­pa­nied by a glass or two of good wine all whilst moored for the night on a ru­ral tow­path .

12 What has been your big­gest task? It has to be the re­build of the Burbage Wharf Crane. Apart from the chal­lenges of re­pair­ing and re­con­struct­ing the foun­da­tions and sup­port­ing struc­ture, there was the won­der­ful op­por­tu­nity of han­dling and fab­ri­cat­ing some four and a half tonnes of green oak. 13 What do you think of peo­ple on the canals? In­ter­est­ing folk from di­verse back­grounds all with a love of the wa­ter­ways and by and large friendly and pre­pared to help. 14 What are your fond­est mem­o­ries of the wa­ter­ways? Cruis­ing to wa­ter­ways not pre­vi­ously vis­ited. Cross­ing Pont­cy­syllte Aqueduct and moor­ing overnight in Bugsworth Basin are two stand-out mem­o­ries. 15 What is your proud­est achieve­ment? Three won­der­ful sons and eight super grand­chil­dren. 16

What would you like to see hap­pen to the wa­ter­ways in your life­time? A com­mit­ment to a re­al­is­tic fund­ing pack­age to recog­nise both the im­mi­nent ter­mi­na­tion of the cur­rent gov­ern­ment fund­ing and to take into ac­count a re­al­is­tic ap­praisal of the works needed to put the 200-year-old net­work back into a good state of re­pair as well as be­ing able to main­tain this for the fu­ture. 17

Do you own a boat.

We did un­til May of this year. Sadly my wife’s arthri­tis and ad­vanc­ing years for us both meant hav­ing to give up af­ter 18 years of hav­ing our own boats. 18

Tell us about your Gold Vol­un­teer Award. It came as a com­plete surprise to know that since the Canal & River Trust set up their vol­un­teer ini­tia­tive I had ap­par­ently put in some 2,000 hours. 19

Where in Bri­tain would you most like to cruise? I very much re­gret that hav­ing to give up our boat meant that we could not ful­fil my long time am­bi­tion to cruise the three north­ern tran­sPen­nine canals. I would have loved to have tack­led Stand­edge Tun­nel. 20

What would your su­per­power be? Some­one with the power to stop what I would call man-made as dis­tinct from nat­u­ral dis­as­ters.

‘Our wa­ter­ways at all costs must be pre­served’ JOHN WEBB

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