On Wednesday 24 February a group of LSE student’s travelled to Haggerston to volunteer with the Canal and River Trust as part of Student Volunteering Week. It was perfect weather for a day of outdoors volunteering even if slightly cold! The chilly temperature didn’t bother anyone for long, as the team of volunteers were kept warm by keeping busy.

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The students met outside the Saw Swee Hock Student Centre, and travelled together to the site. Once we had reached Haggerston station we took a short walk along the canal when we were greeted by the Canal and River Trust staff who were already busy working away on their moored canal boat.

We were first welcomed by Aiden, who told us about the history of the canals and how they were once the hub of industry. The section of the canal we were working on in particular used to receive imports during the nineteenth century from all over the world, from Africa to the Americas. However, the 2,000 miles of canal which exist in the UK (200 miles in London alone) fell into disrepair following the rise of alternative forms of transport and became used less and less frequently. It wasn’t until the 1970s, by which time the canals were quite rundown, that charitable and heritage organisations such as the Canal and River Trust (then working under a different name) sought to rejuvenate the canal network. Today the canals are listed heritage sites with many of the paths and bridges dating back over 200 years. Now the canals are bustling places, full of walkers, joggers, runners, cyclists and canal boats too.

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After a quick induction, and some guidance given on how to share the space (the towpath is quite narrow and cyclists/runners can end up in the canal if towpath users are not aware of their surroundings!) each volunteer set to work conducting a ‘micro litter pick’, making sure that the small pieces of rubbish such as cigarette butts and bottle caps were tidied up. Meanwhile, the rest of Canal and River Trust team set to work cleaning graffiti off the black painted railing. The volunteers chatted as they worked, led by the wonderfully enthusiastic Volunteer Coordinator for the day, Jack.

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Once the section between the two bridges had been cleared of litter the ‘grappling’ could begin! This involved throwing a metal hook into the canal under the bridge. We were told that it very common to pull bicycles out of the canal as these are often thrown over the bridge above. The students, once life-vested up, began to grapple, whilst two volunteers stood either side of the bridge to alert cyclists and joggers that were were ‘volunteers at work’ and to give them time to slow down.

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Each student took it in turn to heave something from the canal – including a chair, a very rusty shopping trolley and some other miscellaneous items. Once we has finished grappling under each side of the bridge, everything was taken back to the canal boat, which was moored nearby.

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Some of the volunteers who took part shared their experiences of the day with us:

Sara (pictured above), a General Course student, told us:

The Regent’s Canal Challenge was a rewarding and enjoyable experience. I have volunteered in community clean-ups before, and was eager to participate in a similar volunteering event at LSE. I saw that picking up litter and grappling for submerged metal not only made the canal and towpath more visually appealing, but it benefits all community members who use the towpath for recreation or commuting. My belief that volunteering both helps the community and increases personal happiness was reinforced by the repeated exclamations of appreciation and thanks from passing walkers, joggers and cyclists. Additionally, I was able to see an area of London I had never explored before, and gained some historical insight about industrialisation in London and the importance of waterways. I left the Regent’s Canal Challenge feeling rejuvenated, happy, and ready to volunteer again.

George, another LSE volunteer told, us why she signed up:

I joined the Regent’s Canal Challenge because I wanted to give a little bit of my time to help clean our community. Being part of a volunteer team and helping cleaning around the Regent’s Canal made me feel part of the community.

Engaging with new students was also fascinating for me. I have learned that it is easy to isolate oneself from the community; hence, we must endeavour to give little bits of our resources to help make our community a better place to live in and volunteering is a good way to do this.

This event was part of Student Volunteering Week, but the LSE Volunteer Centre runs one-off volunteering events throughout term to help you fit volunteering around your studies. To search for one-off volunteering events on CareerHub, select the ‘Events’ tab and filter ‘one-off volunteering.

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