Anglian Waterways Volunteers

Discover how we established and now manage a volunteer scheme for the Environment Agency Anglian Waterways Team.

About the project


Funding for this project is provided by the Environment Agency.

Why is this needed?

In 2016 Cambridgeshire ACRE was asked by the Environment Agency’s (EA) Anglian Waterways Team to help develop a volunteer scheme to support them in their work. The EA Anglian Waterways Team is the Navigation Authority for Anglian Waterways including the River Great Ouse and River Nene and is responsible for keeping the waterways open for boaters and the public to enjoy. Volunteers were needed to assist boaters at locks, perform basic site maintenance, undertake mooring checks, and support the EA at events. The Environment Agency’s Corporate Strategy makes it clear that an aim is to ‘put people and communities at the heart of what we do’ and so recognises that using volunteers has the potential to provide a wide range of benefits, including better engagement with local communities and gaining local support to help deliver essential services.

An initial 18-month pilot scheme was established in May 2016 to use volunteers at Northampton Marina and The Denver Complex. In October 2017 this was extended to include using volunteers at St Ives and Houghton locks. Cambridgeshire ACRE supported the initial and subsequent development of this scheme by working with the EA to identify volunteer roles, resolve health and safety challenges and develop scheme recruitment, branding, training, and reporting. The volunteers are now managed on a day-to-day basis by the Cambridgeshire ACRE scheme co-ordinator who allocates sessions, ensures the wellbeing of volunteers, liaises with the EA, and collects reports and expenses.

Key to the success of this scheme has been the close partnership working between the EA and Cambridgeshire ACRE. Cambridgeshire ACRE contributes experience in establishing volunteer schemes, volunteer management, community reach and understanding of volunteer needs, and the EA brings knowledge of the waterways and its users, skills in training, facilities and equipment.

How can you get involved?

Anyone local to St Ives, Houghton, Godmanchester, Eaton Socon or Northampton who is interested in volunteering with the Anglian Waterways Volunteers should contact the scheme co-ordinator, Rachael Brown: or 01353 865037. We can only take volunteers over the age of 18.

What impact has our work had?

The scheme has been running for 5 years but temporarily halted in 2019 due to Covid-19. Figures are for the 2018-19 boating season only:


Our precious waterways are an important part of our nation’s rich heritage and beauty, giving enjoyment to more than a million people every year. They are a national treasure, valued for their contribution to our environment, our health and wellbeing, and our economy. The volunteers play a vital role in helping us look after these cherished waterways – and making the experience of visiting them a great one.”

Ian Bliss, Anglian Waterways Partnership Manager


“We meet so many interesting people, 99.99% of which are really appreciative of our help. Then again, who wouldn’t enjoy being outdoors and near water?”

“I love being outdoors in the fresh air and rain! Meeting and working with volunteer colleagues, helping and chatting to boaters.”

“It is great just meeting a lot of interesting people, out in the fresh air and doing a surprising amount of walking on a busy day. There is a real camaraderie built up with the other volunteers, a great bunch.”

Comments from various volunteers

Useful links

Who can I talk to about this work?