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
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