Volunteers can help secure the future of Yorkshire’s precious waterways - Christine Mellor

Yorkshire’s rivers and centuries-old canals are used and enjoyed by more people than ever before. But together with the threat of climate change, these historic assets need ongoing care to look after them.

Our charity, Canal & River Trust, which looks after 2,000 miles of waterways in England and Wales, relies on the support of local communities and conservation-minded people to ensure they are here to be handed onto future generations. And that’s why we’re calling out to people in Yorkshire to join our family of volunteers and help secure the future of our region’s precious waterways.

Volunteers’ Week, from 1-7 June, is fast approaching – and it’s the ideal time for people to discover more about our volunteering opportunities. Volunteers’ Week comes hot on the heels of the Big Help Out, an integral element of King Charles III’s coronation celebrations, which saw charities and organisations inspiring people to volunteer. We were delighted that many people joined in with activities Canal & River Trust ran in Yorkshire, including getting involved with our #PlasticsChallenge and signing up to become volunteers after coming along to one of our welcome sessions.

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Our regular welcome sessions are the perfect opportunity for prospective volunteers to find out how volunteering by water can contribute to a healthy mind, body and planet. At these sessions, you can meet volunteers and have a go at some of our volunteering activities, find out what volunteering involves and how it can make a real difference to local communities. Whether you can spare just a few minutes or a couple of days, we have an incredible variety of volunteer roles that keep our 250-year-old network of canals and rivers alive - from the iconic lock keeper, to community, administrative and professional support roles, to wildlife and heritage conservation opportunities. We’re hosting a welcome session in Sowerby Bridge on June 7 and monthly thereafter - you can visit our website for more information about our welcome sessions.

'Yorkshire’s rivers and centuries-old canals are used and enjoyed by more people than ever before'. PIC: Simon Hulme'Yorkshire’s rivers and centuries-old canals are used and enjoyed by more people than ever before'. PIC: Simon Hulme
'Yorkshire’s rivers and centuries-old canals are used and enjoyed by more people than ever before'. PIC: Simon Hulme

With volunteering by water proven to come with added wellbeing benefits, it’s one of the myriad reasons people volunteer with Canal & River Trust. Research in 2021 found people who volunteer by water report being happier, feeling more worthwhile and less anxious than other volunteers or those who don’t volunteer at all.

In a recent survey conducted on behalf of the Trust, half of people said the reasons they get involved with volunteering are to give something back to their community. Around a third said they volunteer to meet new people and make new friends. Mental wellbeing was another key reason, 30 per cent of volunteers said they get involved.

Pete, a retired paramedic and volunteer lock keeper on the South Yorkshire Navigation, credits volunteering along his local waterway for the restoration of his mental health and wellbeing. He says: “Volunteering and being beside the water has changed my life and I would recommend this therapy - because that is what it is - to anyone.”

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Canals have become vital places in our urban and rural communities in providing important habitat for endangered wildlife and vital places for people to experience nature. As such, many of our volunteers enjoy getting out into nature, not only for their own wellbeing, but to make a positive impact on their local environment.

Take the gardening group who are transforming a previously unloved piece of urban land in central Leeds into a pleasant place to spend time and enjoy the wildlife that has made it home. And the group whose work between Sowerby Bridge and Woodside Mill achieved the prestigious Green Flag Award - with passers-by so inspired they are often recruited into the group.

Our volunteers really do make an impact in local communities and it’s wonderful that they are deservedly recognised, with several individuals and groups recently nominated by their local communities for a BBC Make A Difference Award.

Volunteering support in Yorkshire has grown in strength over the last few years - last year, nearly 102,000 volunteer hours were clocked up looking after the region’s waterways, an increase of 36 per cent on the previous year. And it’s vital this trend increases, especially at a time when Canal & River Trust’s existing annual Government grant (fixed with no allowance made for inflation over the period to 2027) is reducing significantly in real terms.

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Beyond 2027, it seems highly likely the Government will seek to reduce its annual grant contribution, piling further pressure on the resources available to look after the network in the longer-term.

So now more than ever, we’re calling on people to join our family of volunteers to help our charity in its growing mission to protect and preserve the 320 miles of waterways in Yorkshire, an intrinsic and important part of the nation’s historic canal network.

See www.canalrivertrust.org.uk/volunteer or search for #VolunteerByWater on social media.

Christine Mellor is head of volunteering at the Canal & River Trust.