Volunteers from across the UK and France have spent three weeks in July helping restore the Wey & Arun Canal as part of a Waterway Recovery Group summer Canal Camp initiative.
Some 50 volunteers headed to Birtley, near Bramley in Surrey, to join the Wey & Arun Canal Trust in building a lift bridge, which is needed to bring the abandoned section of canal there back to life.
The series of three week-long working holidays attracted volunteers of all ages and experiences, from Duke of Edinburgh’s Gold Award students, to those looking to increase their skills in construction, and returning Canal Camp enthusiasts from restoration groups KESCRG and Newbury Working Party Group.
Many of those attending were first time volunteers, keen to give their time to canal restoration and learn new skills and meet new people. Oceane Pottier had not attended a Canal Camp before. “I am studying engineering in France and signed up to the camps to get some more experience in this. I’ve really enjoyed my time here,” she said.
For Claire Sawyer it was her 19th camp. The peri-natal mental health nurse said the camps provided the opportunity to meet different people and she had made lots of new friends as a result, as well as gaining new skills. She added: “It’s also great to look back at what you’ve achieved at the end of week.”
Software engineer Stephen Davis, who led the third week of the camp, has been attending canal camps for 20 years as part of restoration group KESCRG. “Coming to these camps is so rewarding. With my computer work you don’t visible results like you do here. I like to be out in the fresh air and get some exercise. We’ve got a great spread of ages and backgrounds here, from chemists, retired lawyers to students.”
Volunteers started with just a hole in the ground
Over the three week-long camps volunteers started with just a hole in the ground and have created the foundations on which the bridge will stand. To achieve this, they have used over 5 and half tones of reinforced steel, 7000 ties and have poured more than 22 cubic metres of concrete. The bridge has been designed by Wey & Arun Canal Trust volunteer Rob Nicholson, who also led the second week of the camp.
The Newbury Working Party Group’s Bill Nicholson, who led the first week of the camp, said: “Building a new bridge is a major engineering project, and this would not be possible without the commitment of volunteers willing to give so much time to help plan and build the structure. In just three weeks we turned a hole in the ground into the base structure that will support the lift bridge, it’s fantastic to see such progress in a small amount of time.”
Wey & Arun Canal Trust chairman Sally Schupke thanked the volunteers for their hard work and highlighted the difference the camps make to the canal’s restoration progress. “It’s clear the volunteers get so much out of these annual events, and we’re grateful to them for their dedication and commitment to helping us realise our vision of restoring the canal and bringing its benefits to so many people.”
If you would like to join the Wey & Arun Canal Trust’s volunteer teams, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit https://weyarun.org.uk/volunteering