Brian Blessed

British Waterways’ are currently running a campaign to recruit volunteer lock keepers. The campaign was launched in January and has, to date, received 250 applications from water lovers all over the country. With a few spots still available in Pennine areas, British Waterways’ say there has never been a better time to get involved in this unique role.

British Waterways is appealing for extra help at the following locations on the Rochdale and Huddersfield Narrow Canals: 

  • Tuel Lane Lock – the deepest canal lock in the country which combined the original locks 3 and 4 into one cavernous structure with an impressive 20ft rise.
  • Rochdale ‘18’ – this is a lock flight of 18 locks from the suburbs of Manchester into the city centre at Dale Street
  • Huddersfield Narrow Canal – two spots between Lock 1E-42E and Lock 24W-32W (either side of the magnificent Standedge Tunnel)

Members of the public, canal societies and anyone with a passion for their local canal or river have the opportunity to join in with one of the oldest traditions of the waterways, one which the actor and adventurer, Brian Blessed, was keen to do when he supported the launch of the campaign to the 13 million people who use the nation’s canals and rivers each year.

British Waterways, which will be launched as a charity, the Canal & River Trust, later in the year, aims for the 50 locations around the country participating in the scheme to continue to provide the polite and friendly welcome visitors and boaters have enjoyed for hundreds of years.

David Baldacchino, waterway manager for the Manchester & Pennine region, comments: “I’m absolutely delighted at the response we have had so far but we just need a few extra hands on deck to support the volunteers who have already applied. The key qualities we’re looking for are enthusiasm and a willingness to learn. Whether it’s helping a boat through the lock, talking to customers, litter picking or undertaking vegetation works, it can really make a great difference to a visitor’s appreciation of the waterways.”

“The waterways in these areas are such an important heritage asset that needs looking after and our volunteers have been able to provide so many additional benefits on top of the fantastic work our own staff carry out which is really beginning to make a difference.”

Volunteers played a fundamental role in saving the national canal and river network in the 20th century and their contribution continues to help maintain and preserve the nation’s inland waterways; with their unique industrial architecture and important role as havens for nature. Volunteers contributed more than 24,000 days between April 2010 to March 2011 and over 50 people successfully took part in the volunteer lock keeper trials last year.

One of the volunteers who is involved in the scheme, Peter Tomkins, can’t think of a better way to spend his time: “When I saw the advert to be a volunteer lock keeper, I knew it was exactly what I wanted to. There is always something going on, with cyclists and boaters and the scenery changing all the time. If you like meeting people and being outside, there is nothing better!”

The Canal & River Trust will care for 1,654 locks and there are approximately  5 million ‘lockings’ each year (passages through locks). Over 35,000 boats now call the waterways home; a figure higher than at the height of the industrial revolution.

Volunteering will be integral to the success of the Trust which will become one of the biggest charities in the UK, giving local communities a bigger say in the running of their local canal or river.

If you are interested in finding out more about volunteering as a lock keeper visit; email or phone 01827 252097. Willing volunteers can start quickly and no prior experience is necessary as a full induction, training and a uniform will be provided.



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