Volunteers are the lifeblood of many organisations. Sally Clifford chats to members of Pocklington Canal Amenity Society about their ambitious plans for the future.
THEY are the silent workforce. Without volunteers, many organisations throughout the country would struggle to survive or, at least, get anything done.
Canals and towpaths are just some of the places to benefit from the dedication and commitment of volunteers who give their time for free to keep these networks clean and tidy and preserve them for generations to enjoy.
Preservation and maintenance were, in part, reasons for the Pocklington Canal Amenity Society being established in 1969.
This nine-mile stretch of waterway, joining the River Derwent to Canal Head around one mile away from Pocklington town centre in East Yorkshire, is a terminus built between 1815 and 1818 and understood to be one of the last canals in England to be dug.
“Pocklington used to send market produce and farm produce and they would send grain to West Yorkshire,” explained the society’s vice-chairman, Tim Charlson.
By 1845 commercial traffic on the water was dwindling. “By then it was superseded by the railways,” he added.
During the intervening years, the canal’s rural aspect proved to be a natural attraction for wildlife, flora and fauna.
Discovering its beauty through birdwatching prompted Tim to get involved in the society which has worked hard over the years ensuring the canal is accessible to boats and visitors.
It is with this in mind that the society is embarking on an ambitious project – to eventually open the quarter of the canal remaining to be made accessible.
“A lot of the early work was to clear the canal, dredging,” said Tim, referring to the groups of 40 to 60 people who would turn up on weekends to help.
Around seven and a half miles of the section is now accessible and navigable but the society’s aim is to re-open the remainder, enabling them to travel within a mile of Pocklington centre.
Society chairman, Paul Waddington, explained that opening up the remaining few miles would benefit tourism and enable them to extend the route of the day trips they run with their 40ft narrowboat – New Horizons.
Christened after the charity that helped to fund its build, the boat is proving a valuable asset in the society’s strive to fulfil its ambitious project.
Paul explained that donations made from the public boat trips they run on Sundays and Bank Holidays from Easter to October, and chartered boat trips, will help to fund repairs at Sandhill Lock and other necessary work to re-open the remaining stretch.
But with an estimated £1 million cost, the society will have to rely on support to achieve its ambition by the next decade.
Interestingly, it is almost a century since the part of the canal which they are keen to re-open has been accessible.
“Progress is dependent on getting some support or support in principle,” explained Paul.
“We have been working on this since 1969 – in that timescale another 10 years isn’t a huge amount.”
Paul, whose interest in canals began in his childhood, believes the project will bring great benefits.
“I think it is a community spirit thing where there is a lot of support to have the canal restored and it is almost a public-spirited thing to do. It is very much used by walkers who find it a fascinating part of the landscape and it is nice to see part of our history preserved.”
A spokesman for the Canal & River Trust said: “We would love to see the Pocklington Canal restored and we are supportive of such projects. To coincide with the 200th anniversary of the Pocklington Canal we secured a three-year National Lottery-funded project to support ambitions to restore the canal and as one of our top canals for wildlife in the country, with three Sites of Special Scientific Interest this waterway is an idyllic gem.
“Looking after and maintaining a 250-year-old historic infrastructure in an increasingly challenging financial environment is difficult, and our charity is facing tough decisions about how we maintain the waterways and keep them open for all to use and enjoy.
“We support projects where we can, by providing training and guidance in areas such as restoration, environment, health and safety, to help ensure the works are carried out to the high standards required on this historic network.”