Skippers wanted on the waterways of Woking

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One of Surrey’s most distinctive charity projects, the Swingbridge community boat programme (run by the Surrey Care Trust) is currently looking for individuals to train as skippers on their two canal boats.

The local independent charity, is seeking volunteers with experience of working with young people and the confidence to learn how to take responsibility for skippering boat trips and helping to train other novice volunteers. Prior experience of boating is helpful but not essential as volunteers will receive first class in-house training, accredited by the National Community Boats Association.SCT2 SCT1

Placed under the wing of some of Surrey’s most experienced helmsman, aspiring skippers will progress through the Community Crew and subsequent Boat Handling courses before they can undertake the Certificate in Community Boat Management which qualifies them to be a skipper. Training takes place on both of the Surrey Care Trust’s Swingbridge boats and once qualified, a skipper can volunteer on one or both of the respective boat programmes.

Aboard Swingbridge1, a 40ft wide-beam canal boat equipped with wheelchair access and all-weather canopy, skippers and their crew run trips and training for students from the Surrey Care Trust’s STEPS educational programmes, groups with physical or mental disabilities, schools, community groups, care homes and hospices.

Stephen, a skipper with Swingbridge1 since 2010, described how “providing a happy and uplifting experience for elderly and disadvantaged people” was a “highly rewarding” experience for the skipper and the rest of the crew.

Similarly Lew, one of the original members of the Swingbridge team with nearly ten years of experience as a skipper, was equally keen to emphasise how, “the traffic is not all one way.” While skippers and volunteer crew members give generously of their time to deliver new and valuable experiences to those less fortunate or physically able, they also benefit tremendously from their time on the Swingbridge boat. Lew explained,

“There is something about the calmness of a boat trip that brings out reminiscences (generally in older passengers) and some have very fascinating stories to tell. Crew can also get a tremendous buzz from someone (perhaps with learning difficulties) doing something that they previously thought was beyond their reach.”

Providing a happy and uplifting experience for elderly and disadvantaged people is highly rewarding.

The second of the Surrey Care Trust boats, Swingbridge2, is a bespoke work boat commissioned to carry out environmental and conservation tasks on the River Wey, River Thames and Basingstoke Canal. The work makes a valuable contribution to looking after the local environment while also enabling volunteers to gain new practical skills.

Both the River Wey and Basingstoke Canal in the Woking area benefit tremendously from the work carried out by the Swingbridge crew. In 2012 the team spent late spring and early summer restoring the waterways, locks, bridges and pathways near Bridge Barn, St John’s Lock, Woking Park and all along the course of the Basingstoke Canal. Swingbridge2 is due to return to the Basingstoke Canal later in May this year.

For those interested in getting involved with the Swingbridge programme or training to become a skipper more information can be found on the website: www.swingbridge.org.uk or by contacting the Volunteer Coordinator, Chris Padmore, on 01483 412763 or chris.padmore@surreycaretrust.org.uk.

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Andy is a business systems and operations consultant for The Business Delicatessen and has helped the KRA over several years. He is former editor of the magazine and also runs Fat Crow Design.

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