18 October 2019

A Grand Day Out

by: Buffs

Western Depot manager Reg, who also carries the title of Grand Director of Maintenance for the Western Canal, stood in front of the grass cutting tool shed. “All these tools and so few being used” he mused, “if only we had more volunteers trained to use them”. The thought crystallised and became The Training Day.  All WD tasks would be set aside for one day and the time devoted to getting more people trained to use strimmers and polesaws, the grillo sickle mower. The tipper would get new drivers signed off and trailer training would see more volunteers given the basic tools to reverse trailers and tow them safely.

The day chosen was to be Reg’s third day out on the ground working with his charges. Last week he joined an expedition shifting wet hessian sandbags from the landing stage at Ebley onto a Mitzi.  Not an easy task as each nominal 20kg bag had to be carried increasing distances to the waiting vehicle in the carpark. Offloading at Dudbridge was easier – just slide off the tailgate into a ragged pile. Not content with his morning’s lift and shift Reg was only too pleased to help with the unloading of a substantial van load of flat pack furniture up to the top floor at the Brimscombe bookshop. There was little time to stand and admire the Virginia creepers bleeding through the still green hedges along the waterside.

Came the day for the big expedition to the Ocean where the green training was to take place and the yard was busy with strimmers being filled and tested before loading and training rosters prepared.  Tea was poured into flasks and lunch boxes were loaded into vehicles.  Then a message that the ‘volunteer what knows about training for strimmers etc.’ rang in sick. “No matter, we’ll carry on” said Reg.  There was a big reason to continue as the HLF assessors were due be given a progress report on the development phase of the 1B bid. The assessors would be coming to the Ocean and St Cyr’s church to be talked through 9 short presentations and reports on the detail of the progress and plans.  And there was real work to do around the Ocean basin wharf front by the former farm buildings. 

The ongoing commitment to keeping the waterside community involved with the restoration effort along the waterway means that we work with them to keep the waterside tidy.  The Ocean was dredged by the trust volunteers some time ago and many willows were felled or pollarded.  The main channel is essentially clear but the vegetation close to the gardens has grown strongly and tall.  WD were to reduce the height of the greenery and pollard the willows.
Base camp was established on the ‘Wedding Field’ by Stonehouse Court.
Richard gave training on the Grillo and Mike was on hand to give the benefit of his experience with the pole pruner/saw.
Several volunteers were given experience in working with the pole pruner and much young growth was removed from willows young and old.  So much work was done that it required 3 runs with the tipper to clear the brash away.
The greenery beyond the dock wall had been reduced by Heather from Wookey Hole and her mentee Chris using the heavy Stihl’s fitted with masher blades. These tools are very effective at reducing dense brush and greenery to a mulch which can be left to rot down or cleared as required.
During all these activities we were watched by the waterborne residents of the Ocean. The family of swans, 7 cygnets still in their grey plumage and two adults, are clearly the stars of the water.  They are ably supported by ducks and squadrons of moorhens and coots.
We had done some prior observations and watched the moorhens and coots disappearing into gaps in the reeds and were mindful of this when working and training throughout the day.

During the day the WD volunteers recorded skills in vegetation management and driving techniques which will reduce the load on those who already have them and bodes well for the work of the yard.  The intended training on strimmer tools will be re-programmed soon.  The weather was kind with yellow jackets quickly replaced with just the hi-vis waistcoats.  Fading summer tans were topped up and lungs refreshed.  The night’s sleep was well earned.
And a source within the 1B hierarchy has said that the bid review was successful with the team impressed with the work done and the evident enthusiasm of the volunteers visible on the day was commended.

But what of Reg?  He enjoyed a day away from the phone.  His primary role was as team speaker.  An essential role in any work team along the towpath as most people will stop and ask “What are you doing today?”  Reg was ideal for the role as he knows much about what we are doing now and for the future.  His forte was, and is, the emollient link between WD and the residents around the Ocean. And he set up the day for us – not sure how he managed the good weather though!

10 volunteers were trained across 5 disciplines:  Polesaw, Grillo, Tipper Driving, Trailer Towing and Jet Washer use.
Congratulations to David C, Andy J, Matt J, Vince H, Bob K, Phil S, Richard A, Steve P, , Frank L and Clive B.
Thanks go to Frank L, Richard A, Mike L, Dave C and Bob A for sharing their knowledge and experience with the group.  And of course to Reg.