The Basingstoke Canal Society looks after 32 miles of canal, thanks to its 260 volunteers who give around 28000 hours a year.
Many of these volunteers have been with the Society for years. Ken Sankey, a trustee on The Basingstoke Canal Society’s committee, thinks their approach to recruiting and supporting volunteers helps achieve this level of support and commitment:
“We have built and work in teams. There’s an emphasis on enjoyment and support; we don’t want to frighten people off! We try to empower them.
“Teams need leaders – people to make things happen – and you need to support them. It can take time to find the right people. We do have gaps that need filling that require certain skillsets. But it is worth waiting until the right person comes along.”
Pete Wigmore has been volunteering on the canal for seven years. He believes being able to progress as a volunteer has encouraged some people to keep volunteering:
“When I started, I would just enjoy the situation, being outdoors, the exercise and the wildlife. Later on, I had some health and safety training for brush cutting, hedge trimming and the sit-on mowers.
“During the pandemic, once it was allowed, volunteers would meet in groups of six, and we introduced volunteer leaders. Every leader has health and safety and first aid training. That progression has been important.
“I’ve also gone on to become one of the crew who drive the various boats, taking people out on day trips. I knew a bit about boats so got more involved. Having something new happening every day makes it varied.”
Ken also stresses that being flexible is important: “Some people just want a few hours and to keep things simple – and that’s fine.”
Pete agrees. “A typical day on the canal is usually 10.30am – 2.30pm, but sometimes people head off lunchtime. And you don’t have to turn up every week. It’s flexible.”
An inclusive culture
Lastly, Pete says another important factor in keeping volunteers coming back is volunteering appeals to many different people: “It’s a good group, all ages. It’s always really refreshing when you get to chat to new people who come along.”
Charlotte Rodgers, who is the Society’s press officer, agrees that meeting new and different people is a key part of what makes volunteering interesting: “The one thing I’m really enjoying about being part of the network is meeting so many interesting and lovely people. They’re not people I would have otherwise met, even though they live just down the road from me. It’s the people who keep you coming back.
“I’ve met quite a few people who’ve volunteered for a long time; it’s a social thing, and also an expression of the love they have for where they live. People are invested in what they’re doing. It’s so lovely that everyone is so engaged.”
Part 1 of this series looking at how to find great volunteers is here.