What to expect on a dig weekend, and how to join in
The group draws on a core of 15 or so volunteers, spread right across the southern half of the UK- but over the course of the year, we see around 50 individuals attend one or more of our work parties or the summer camp. A typical weekend work party will see 10-20 participants, including a dedicated cook. Our volunteers must be over 18, and though we have no official age limit, must be physically capable of spending a day outdoors doing moderately hard work on rough or uneven ground. We have a good spread of ages from young people often inspired to continue volunteering after joining a WRG Summer camp as part of their Duke of Edinborough Gold Award, or following family boating holidays in childhood, through to experienced volunteers in mid-life, and retirees with a life’s worth of skill to bring with them.
Our volunteers are drawn from all walks of life – from engineers, to office workers, to those whose jobs involve practical skills directly applicable to restoration projects. Dig weekends are ideal opportunities to share and learn these skills related to construction, machinery operation, problem solving and logistics, and to meet and mix with people from a range of ages and backgrounds. We are always looking for enthusiastic volunteers aged 18 or over to join us, and no previous experience or skills are required – just a keen attitude and a willingness to learn.
The group has a fully equipped kit trailer, with both a full catering kit and a range of tools required on worksites, which cover most eventualities.
Our Dig Weekends are usually on canals in the southern half of the UK – for example, the Cotswold Canals, Wilts and Berks, Wey and Arun, and the Buckingham and Wendover Arms of the Grand Union Canal are frequent hosts. Details of a dig weekend are usually published on this web site, and to our Facebook group and mailing list 3-4 weeks before the date, including who is leading, an overview of the site and the work, and most importantly where we are staying (commonly called ‘the accommodation’ – most often a Village Hall, Scout hut or similar) and how to find it.
Most people travel to a dig in their own cars, but lift shares or station pickups are always possible and encouraged.
Dig weekends almost always start by meeting on Friday night at the pub nearest the accommodation for a couple of hours catching up and meeting new faces, before retiring to the accommodation where sleeping arrangements are usually communal, on the floor in sleeping bags with roll mats/camp beds, etc.
Saturday morning sees a full cooked breakfast at around 8am, and we normally aim to be on site at around 9am, where we will meet the local Canal Trust representative, who will fully brief us on the work for the weekend, including any site-specific safety issues to bear in mind. New volunteers will receive a full safety briefing at this point.
Work then commences, which could be anything from clearing and burning scrub and bushes/small trees, to controlled dismantling of structures for rebuilding, to mortar/concrete mixing, to laying bricks or preparing steelwork and formwork for concrete pours, to operating dumper trucks and excavators, to a myriad of other tasks required to restore and maintain our waterways structures. Every task will have a plan and training available to ensure volunteers carry out the tasks safely and correctly. We have our own full Health and Safety policy and risk assessments, and we operate within the WRG Driver Authorisation Scheme for machinery and plant. We have full accident and public liability insurance.
We stop for tea breaks and lunch on site, before returning to the accommodation at the end of the working day. Usually, this is when it gets dark during winter digs, or around 5ish in the spring & summer – maybe a bit later on the Saturday if we are really engrossed in the work.
On Saturday evening our wonderful kitchen volunteer will serve us a full dinner at around 7pm, and often after dinner, we will return to the local pub for further socialising.
Sunday follows a similar pattern to Saturday, though we often try to finish on site by around 3ish, to give time for all the tools to be cleaned, packed up and to allow people to get home in good time on Sunday evening.
The cost for a weekend for 2 breakfasts, 2 lunches and a full Saturday dinner is currently £11, usually collected as cash on the Saturday evening.
The accommodations we use have a kitchen, toilets and washing facilities, though not always a shower for a weekend. Volunteers need to provide at a minimum:
- Steel Toe Capped boots
- Sleeping bag
- Roll-mat / camp bed
- Wash kit
- Clothes for site work (some sites stipulate trousers rather than shorts)
- a sense of humour
Volunteers can provide their own hard hat and gloves, but these and other required PPE (hi-vis jackets, ear defenders, dust masks, safety glasses) will be provided from our kit as necessary. The only item of PPE that a volunteer must bring for themselves are the Steel Toe Capped boots.