Volunteer News - Autumn 2011

Trevor Ellis, Volunteer Coordinator, writes about the work of HCS's volunteers.  If you are interested in becoming involved, simply contact the Society Office on 01457 871800.

(Autumn 2011)

Having spent much of the Winter working taking out any saplings that we found along the towpath edge and removing overhanging vegetation along the full length of the canal, we got an early start on the Summer’s activities with the good weather in April.

This year BW opted to do the gear lubrication themselves. They used a white grease, which anyone walking the canal may have seen. This seems reasonably effective and lasts better than the biodegradable oil that we were supposed to use, but they don’t seem to have done the backs of the racks or to have lubricated the spindle oil holes.

Our task for this year is to continue the painting of the locks from Lock 35E, having completed 42E to 36E last year, with the aim of reaching Slaithwaite. At the time of writing (early July), we are working on 28E, so that looks a possibility, unless we hit a wet spell. We have a good team of 6 to 8 volunteers who can turn out alternate Fridays, which makes it possible to work on two locks at once if needed.

We would still welcome anyone who wishes to get involved as we may lose some people to other groups and in order to give more flexibility.

(Autumn 2010)

As I mentioned in the Spring Edition, our next task was oiling and greasing paddle gear, which we completed shortly thereafter. The only problem we have is that the “environmentally friendly” oil we are using doesn’t last long and we could really do with oiling everything every couple of months. With the present numbers of volunteers and frequency of working, that would leave us little time to do anything else on the Canal, so some of the gearing is well overdue for doing again.
This year’s “something else” is to paint the Marsden flight, down as far as Sparth. At the time of writing (end of August), we have almost completed down to Lock 36E, so it really depends on what sort of Autumn we have. The difficulty that we tend to have is that anything under trees tends to stay damp for most of the day later in the year, so Lock 34E in particular is likely to be a problem.

We have picked up a couple of new volunteers recently and anyone else with time to spare on Fridays who feels like getting involved, please call the Office.
(Spring/Summer 2010)

As I mentioned in my review of 2009, on the poorer days and with the colder, damper weather we turned our attention to the saplings on the West side, which had not had the regular attacks that those on the East have suffered. At that time we were fighting the stretch from Grove Road up to Lock 9W, where the well-intentioned local authority advice when this was being dredged was to leave a metre each side undredged. We eventually finished the stretch, having spent a good couple of days blessing them for including the towpath side in this advice. The rest of the west side was soon complete and we moved to the East, where we have, so far, reached Lock 12E in Milnsbridge, working down. The rest will be a Summer job for the poorer days.
The next task is oiling and greasing paddle gear, and at the time of writing we have completed most of the manual gear on the west side. April, hopefully, should see this task complete, before we move into the painting season.

This year’s Summer task is to paint the Marsden flight, down as far as Sparth.

(Winter 2009)

At the time of writing we are approaching the end of a year and also waiting to find out what the effect of the BW re-organisation is going to be on our activities, so I thought that I would review 2009.

We started the year working on the East side, clearing lock landings, including a particularly difficult one at Lock 11E, getting rid of sapling growth along the towpath edge and then, as the boating season approached, oiling the paddle gearing and topping up the hydraulic units. The saplings become fewer each year we do the job, so we do appear to be winning. Finally, we installed a new path down to the trip boat landing at Tunnel End as part of the BW "Towpath Tidy" day, before turning our attentions to the West side.

There have always been difficulties about the split management between East and West, one of which was that we have always tended to end up doing different work on the two sides. We therefore started a Summer of painting the locks.

I had optimistically offered to try to paint from Diggle down to Division Bridge, which might just about have been "on" if we had had our full complement and not suffered from wet weather. As it was, I think we only managed both a full day and full numbers on two occasions and managed to paint from 32W down to 27W, followed by 23W. At the moment we have the most of 22W (Dungebooth Lock) finished but the paddle gear is only undercoated. The lock would surprise anyone who worked on the original restoration, being under trees these days, and it may be some time before it is dry enough.

On the poorer days and with the colder, damper weather we have turned our attention to the saplings on the West side, which have not had the regular attacks that those on the East have suffered. We've so far done Diggle to Mossley over the Summer and Ashton to Grove Road, where we are currently fighting the stretch from Grove Road up to Lock 9W. The well-intentioned local authority advice when this was being dredged was to leave a metre each side undredged. While this is a good idea on the offside, particularly where the canal is wide, on this length, narrow and well-wooded, it provides a kind of "willow heaven" and we may be there into the New Year.

At some point, perhaps when the new organisation appoints a Volunteer Co-ordinator, we need to have a meeting with BW to decide on our programme for 2010.

(Summer 2009)

It's been some time since anything appeared in Pennine Link about HCS Volunteer Activities. You may recall our difficulties with BW's Health and Safety regime, which was doubled in our case by the canal being divided between two BW Regions. At last there are improvements both on the ground and in view. BW has appointed Volunteer Co-ordinators in each of its Waterway Units and the attitude towards volunteers is much more positive.

The good news, for me, is that BW are "consulting" on a new organisation, under which both of our canals may be part of a "Peak and Pennine" unit which appears to have its boundary at Cooper Bridge - "though the Huddersfield Broad Canal is only mentioned under Yorkshire and then as "Lock 1 to junction with river"!!! I place "consulting" in inverted commas, because this does seem awfully like a "done deal".

The chief problem for me in all of this is the proposed location of the regional office - Northwich! This is 60 miles from Cooper Bridge and almost on the south-western edge of the proposed area. Not only that, but it is less than 15 miles from another proposed office in Chester!

Having sorted out our H&S problems, we spent much of the winter working on the East Side, clearing the lock landings and quadrants and then oiling the paddle gearing, including topping up the hydraulic units. We also took out any saplings we found along the towpath edge.

Apart from the oiling, we found that our previous efforts meant there was much less to do this time, even though in some cases it was a couple of years since we were last round. The oiling of the manual gearing will need doing again this year - possibly twice - as the "bio-degradable" oil they now specify does exactly what it says on the tin!
Trevor, Laurence Sullivan and Eric Crosland put the finishing touches to a bark-surfaced ramp at Tunnel End for the use of Marsden Shuttle passengers.

We joined in the "Towpath Tidy" in March by working with BW to build a ramp down to the canal at Tunnel End so that the "Marsden Shuttle" can work separately from the tunnel trips. Although I suppose this was not exactly "tidying", it was necessary and it provided a welcome opportunity for the two organisations to work together.

We have now returned to the West Side, carrying out painting of locks. We have agreed to tackle the length from Diggle to Royal George and we made a start in early May. Unfortunately we were rained off half way through the day and it has since rained pretty much daily, so at the present rate of progress it could be some time before we complete the task! The fact that BW have reverted to using water-based paints doesn't help - anything that we had only just completed may well be on the ground when we go back!

The fitting of Bridge Number Plates has been completed on both sides of the Narrow Canal and I am hopeful that BW may do the Broad this winter.

We would welcome anyone who wishes to get involved. In view of the fact that our core volunteers, including myself, don't work any more, activities now take place on Weekdays, about fortnightly.

(Summer 2008)

For a couple of years now, we have been working on the West Side, carrying out painting of locks and oiling and greasing paddle gear. Unwisely, around October time we decided to respond to a number of complaints from boaters about un-greased paddle gear on the East Side and I approached the management about doing the work.

It transpired that we were not recorded on the BW database as a 'Self-Certifying Organisation'. A meeting was needed with BW's Health and Safety people.

The meeting was initially proposed for December, but postponed to January. In the meantime, BW on the West Side took fright and suspended us from working. When the meeting came, we needed a few basic tweaks and additions, which were agreed by HCS Council within a few days and submitted. In late March, we finally heard that we were approved.

In all of this, everyone has been most helpful and done their job as they see it, but you can well see why any voluntary organisation can lose momentum, volunteers or funding while the process drags on.

If BW truly want volunteers they are going to have to put themselves out to welcome them on board. No broadly-based environmental organisations are going to stick around and go through a process of this length to work for BW for nowt. Hopefully the recent appointment of a national Volunteer Manager may go some way towards speeding up the process.

We have recently managed to obtain some oil (and the necessary paperwork) and a couple of us have been out and oiled all of the manual gearing on the East Side, some of which was partially seized. If you were wondering, good old fashioned, long lasting, grease is a prohibited substance; hence we oil rather than grease these days.

Another issue that has dragged on is the production and fitting of Bridge Number Plates.

I remember having meetings with BW and visiting foundries etc. back in 2000, before the canal re-opened, and the first discussions of the idea may even go back to 1999!

A lot of time went into clearing the design with BW, following which we discovered that Listed Building consent would be required for many of the bridges. Much time was also wasted discussing the idea of us fitting the plates and, inevitably, there turned out to be far too many Health and Safety reasons why this was not possible.
Bridge Plate

We discovered a producer of railway plates (Procast Ltd.), who already had a suitable pattern, but production was slow and painting took time. Finally, in 2006, we delivered a full set of plates for one side of all the bridges, East & West. Those on the West side were installed by BW over the Winter of 2006-07.

Towards the end of last Summer, I was approached by the West Side about the other side of the bridges. We are now delivering the last few plates of another full set and the West side have installed most of theirs as fast as we have delivered them. I am hoping that the East Side will now follow suit.

I apologise to anyone who wished to sponsor plates as I have lost track over the years. If you are still interested, please give me a call and I will try to make the arrangements (when the plates are fitted, in the case of East Side!)