Monday, 28 November 2016

Giving Up Monitoring

I've decided to resign from my voluntary post as a moorings monitor for the Canal and River Trust.  There's not much to do over the winter anyway, with all mooring sites reverting to 14-days between November and March and the Ribble Link closed for the season, but I won't be taking it on again next year.

It's partly for health reasons. My usual route was to cycle over the hill from Lancaster to Tewitfield and monitor my sites at Carnforth and Hest Bank on the way back via the towpath. But the heart medication I'm on at the moment, whilst doing its job, has the side-effect of making cycling more difficult - at least uphill - and whilst I could go both ways on the towpath (except north of Carnforth where it's not suitable for cycling) that too has its problems. 

Between Carnforth and the outskirts of Lancaster, despite being part of Sustrans Cycle Route 6 (The equivalent, supposedly, of the A6 trunk road) it's badly rutted, so badly in fact that I once came off my bike and nearly ended up in the cut. There are also numerous bridgeholes with poor sight-lines and - ludicrously - "speed bumps" - which make for a slow and uncomfortable ride. In Lancaster itself, the towpath is just too busy with other cyclists, walkers, dogs, children etc  to be able to make reasonable progress and at times I have felt like an intruder.

But I've also been asking myself why I do it in the first place.  Most volunteers are motivated by the desire to assist others in need of help as well as hoping to get something out of it themselves.  I was hoping for exercise (but see above) and also by a wish to keep in touch with the cut and with canal people now I no longer have a boat.  But boat monitoring proved to be a rather solitary occupation. Most moored boats turned out to be unoccupied and whilst the few boaters I did speak to were generally supportive of the monitoring programme, there weren't very many of them. Nor did I get the chance to meet any other volunteers.  In two years of monitoring only one volunteers' meeting was called. And although we were invited to a Christmas meal last year, in retrospect I suspect we gatecrashed the local depot staff's annual "do", although they were far too polite to say so.  

Management of the programme was very much at arm's length and conducted by email, whilst feedback on the progress and benefits of our work wasn't forthcoming. Our finding were reported directly into a website from home and until I suggested it weren't even acknowledged.  When I reported my cycle accident I received only a cursory enquiry about my health and certainly no apology for the state of the towpath.

So, not getting much out of it for myself I asked myself whether I was helping others. Although the boaters I'd met were appreciative of my - and other monitor's - efforts I couldn't help coming to the conclusion that my voluntary work was benefiting mainly middle-class, white, relatively-wealthy boat owners, who, whilst very nice people, are hardly the most deserving folk in society.  If I'd been getting a lot out of it myself I'd have been happy to help them, but as I wasn't I couldn't see the need to carry on.

I can carry on cycling, but perhaps on flatter, better-maintained routes and will still walk along the towpath on my way into town. But for the time being my voluntary efforts will be targeted elsewhere.

1 comment:

Mark Doran said...

I entirely sympathise Jim. I volunteered at the Oxford Food Bank, a deserving cause benefitting the less well-off and reducing food waste. But I found myself too often sitting in the depot disposing of surplus and nearly-rotten food and thus saving the supermarkets from paying someone to do the same task! Plus there were lots of eager young activist. I enjoyed my role but ultimately the main beneficiary of my efforts was my own sense of social responsibility.