Ranger Maureen Readle is one of the many helping hands devoting their time to caring for the local canal network. Sally Clifford finds out more…
CRUISING on the canal network for 12 years, Maureen and John Readle were keen to give something back.
Maureen explained they were among the owners of a syndicate boat. “For 12 years we had lots of holidays on the canal all over the network, and when we retired we wanted to give back to the community in some way.”
The former teacher says it was her husband, who worked in engineering, who discovered the Upper Calder Valley Towpath Taskforce, one of a number of volunteer groups run by the Canal & River Trust, which looks after nine miles of the Rochdale Canal from Mytholmroyd to Walsden.
“We thought it was an ideal fit for us because we have benefited in other parts of the network, whether it be a voluntary lock keeper or somebody has improved the towpath or cut the trees, we wanted to do the same for other boaters. We like being outside and that this is local,” said Maureen.
Living in Todmorden, close to Lock 15 on the Rochdale Canal, which stretches 32 miles crossing the Pennines from Manchester to Sowerby Bridge, the couple were perfectly placed and became volunteers with the Upper Calder Valley Towpath Taskforce in 2017.
“It’s also one of the things we can do together, a shared interest,” said Maureen, who was busy filling a bag with leaves she had gathered from the canal, close to Lock 19 in Todmorden town centre when we met.
Encouraged through their voluntary work, the couple became rangers, adopting a stretch of the Rochdale Canal in 2018/19.
Eyes and ears
“We adopted the stretch from Lock 15 into Todmorden because we often walk in to go shopping so we always have our ranger hat on,” said Maureen.
She explained the role involves being the eyes and ears of the canal, checking and reporting any issues that need attention.
“I think because we were using the towpath we were aware of it and it seemed a really useful thing to do; something, again, that benefited what we were doing – volunteering.
“But I have to say as volunteers we benefit as well because there is a lot about mental health at the moment and it is nice to be active, which is very important, and it is a nice group. We go home really exhausted but feel we have done a good job.”
She added that the Canal & River Trust is very good at training, referring to the online courses they have completed on subjects such as water safety with the charity.
Joining Maureen in her voluntary duties on a damp and dull November morning are Diana Monahan, Andrew Shephard and Christopher Woodward, who are busy tidying up nearby veg beds and foliage under the guidance of Matt Crowley, volunteer leader with the Canal & River Trust.
He said: “We do a lot of cosmetic work and the reason is we want to encourage more people to come and use the canal and walk on the towpath.”
The former teacher joined the Canal & River Trust two years ago. “I wanted a job outside in nature and try to make a positive impact to the environment I grew up in,” added Matt.
His role is running the volunteering groups to carry out tasks to suit the operational requirements.
This can involve litter clearing from land and water and repairing towpaths, among others.
Some of the roles are seasonal – clearing leaves from the canal is an important winter task while lock painting can be left until the warmer weather along with hedge planting and weeding gardens.
But, as the volunteers prove, caring for the canal is a year-round commitment and, according to Matt, it is their support that helps to keep the canal network running. “Without people like Maureen and John they would not run.”
He acknowledges the benefits volunteering can bring to the volunteers, and those who use the canal network too. “We want to make life better by water.”
To find out more about volunteering with the Canal & River Trust visit Towpath Taskforce | Canal & River Trust (canalrivertrust.org.uk)