A new volunteer’s diary: the first few trips

First day’s volunteering

Crew members Vic, Charles, Margaret, Catherine and Phil.
Crew members Vic, Charles, Margaret, Catherine and Phil.

Well, if I want to keep myself fit and busy once I retire, this is the way to do it. Didn’t stop today.  25 elderly but ambulant passengers on board – all absolutely delightful company. We volunteers worked six locks, took 25 lunch orders and phoned them through to the pub, made more than 50 cups of tea and sold loads of pens and tea towels. Then vacuumed and tidied for tomorrow’s trip.  Aching and slightly surprised that I only had ten minutes to see the canal and riverside go by.  Rest of the crew were charming and interesting  – old hands who said it had been one of their busiest days.  Mind you, they didn’t look phased.   And they are all at least 20 years older than me! They even had time to quote Shakespeare to me – thank goodness it was my O Level text and I recognised it.  Otherwise, feeling slightly inadequate.  Will sleep like a log.

Skipper – Charles, retired manager for a bank.
Crew – Catherine, retired from bank. Colin, retired salesman and trainer and quoter of Shakespeare and poems.
Boat – Serenade
Trip – Loughborough to Zouch
Weather – Warm, muggy and mostly overcast
Wildlife – Dragonflies, nesting swan, duck and ducklings (Mallard), coot, moorhen, heron

Second day’s volunteering

It can be wet...
It can be wet…

Awful weather. I was wet from cycling to the boat, despite full waterproofs.  Transferred from Serenade to Symphony after volunteer Louise banged her head rather too hard on a closed hatch over a stairway. Everything in different places o this boat – but soon got the hang of it.  Much more time to see the waterways, gardens, livestock and wildlife this time, but always through the raindrops and the mist of our breath in the cold June air.

Passengers were a group of very elderly, two in wheelchairs.  Oldest 96 and still living independently.  Youngest 61, but disabled from birth.  All up for a good time despite weather!  The group has been coming each year for a long time. One lady passenger used to be a farmer and said she really loves seeing the cattle and horses on the banks.  She misses her livestock. The group had picnic on board and their helpers were amazing – had been up at 4am making trifle for the picnic. I felt guilty that they wouldn’t let us help them more. They even offered us strawberries and trifle – of course we said yes please!.  Not nearly so tired as last time.  Perhaps that was a baptism of fire.

Skipper – Colin, retired airline pilot.  6 years volunteering.
Crew – Shakespeare Colin, from last time.  John.
Boat – Symphony
Trip – Loughborough to Barrow
Weather – Persistent, heavy, sometimes torrential rain – really needed my waterproof leggings!
Wildlife – Mayflies, four nesting swans, duck and ducklings (Mallard), coot, moorhen, heron, and cormorant.

When we moored up back at base, Phil – a volunteer from the other boat – came to tell us two things.  They’d had no rain – it really must be me!  More importantly,  they had taken 14 severely disabled children out.  He came to tell us that one of the boys, who has not been known to respond to any stimuli before, had definitely reacted to the trip.  Phil was absolutely made up. Seeing such milestones in other people’s lives is obviously one of the joys of volunteering here.

Third Days Volunteering

Colin the skipper in waterproofs at Barrow
Colin the skipper in waterproofs at Barrow.

Spoke to some really interesting passengers today. A multiple sclerosis support group who had a really good time on the boat.  I asked some of them about their lives and what the boat trips mean to them.  Got some amazing answers.  And one passenger, who had worried she would be badly affected by the boat’s motion, has decided all is OK, and to take up her husband’s offer of going on a family canal boat trip with their two young daughters.  We gave them a leaflet for Melody our adapted holiday boat for families!

Skipper – Colin
Crew –  Robert (retired ship’s captain), Maureen (retired nanny), Ann (retired maker of bridal headdresses), Julia (retired teacher)
Boat – Symphony
Trip –  Loughborough to Mountsorrel
Weather – Cold and overcast, but no rain – hurrah.
Wildlife –  Swans on nests, Aylesbury ducks, Mallards with young, moorhen with chicks, heron

Fourth day’s volunteering

Ron entertaining the passengers
Ron entertaining the passengers.

Hot enough for sun hats.   A class from a special school was on board for a lesson today.  Many in wheelchairs.  Some blind. Some more physically able, but with learning difficulties.  They ranged from 6 to 11 years old and were great to be with.  Someone who lives in Barrow has built a ‘castle wall’ at the bottom of their garden.  Huge, white, crenellated, and with four large black cannon pointing towards the water.  It looks impressive. The children were delighted, and slightly scared.  They asked if they should duck!

Obviously we don’t take the children for a pub lunch!  They stopped for a long picnic under the shade of a willow tree instead, with all the catkin fluff flying around like confetti in the light breeze . It was great.  Their carers say their journey really calmed them.

Skipper – Trevor
Crew –  Pat, Ron (musician), John (retired editor), Laurie (retired company manager), Julia (retired teacher)
Boat –  Symphony
Trip –  Loughborough to Barrow marina for a picnic
Weather – Some sunshine at last.
Wildlife –  Didn’t notice much – too entertained by the children.


No more entries! Sorry, but I’m off to enjoy the outdoors and the company of the passengers, carers and other volunteers, and not tie myself to my computer.   There are locks to work and cups of tea to make.  I hope this has given you a flavour of what it’s like to volunteer for the Peter Le Marchant Trust.  If you’ve got this far, you are probably interested, so why not try it out?