Young Basingstoke Canal volunteer finds the right path

My Name is Martin Thompson. I’m aged 23 and have been volunteering with Basingstoke Canal Society for the last three years.

I first found out about the need for volunteers when I was walking home along the Canal and saw a sign asking for volunteers to help with the conservation of the Canal. I thought this sounds like fun and decided to get on board.

Nearly three years later, I’m still a volunteer

The work varies quite a lot and you can work as part of a team or as an individual. Typical tasks include canal bank scrub clearance, managing over hanging trees, fencing work, repairing damaged banks, painting lock gates…anything that needs to be done to keep the Canal looking good. It can be hard work but it’s also a lot of fun.

I was really impressed with how well you are looked after. Volunteers get very good training in how to use equipment such as mechanical hedge trimmers, brush cutters and grass mowers. They treat you as a person as you become part of the community of volunteers.

“I was really impressed with how well they look after volunteers. You get very good training and they treat you as a person.”

Volunteering with the Canal Society is very relaxing, and in some way, I find it therapeutic. It helps to take my mind off pressing issues in my frequently chaotic (but fun) model aircraft business. I always make a point of leaving my mobile in the car as it’s good to focus on things away from work. By volunteering, you gain a different perspective.

Not all volunteering is the same

When volunteering with the Canal Society, I really like some of the ‘soft’ stuff’ such as the happy celebrations when it’s a fellow volunteer’s birthday. Suddenly a birthday cake appears! That’s on top of the regular the tea, coffee and biscuits in the rest breaks. After a busy day, it’s also not uncommon for the work party to recuperate at a local pub with a well-earned pint or two.

How volunteering has shaped my life

Volunteering has been, and still is, a massive part of my life. I first started volunteering with the Surrey Wildlife Trust on Chobam Common when I was seven years sold. I had recently taken up the hobby of flying model aeroplanes on the Common with my father.  In stark contrast to some of my fellow school classmates, who have subsequently found themselves facing challenges such as drug addiction and other serious issues, I believe that volunteering and my hobby have given me the building blocks for life. Both have helped me to stay on the ‘straight and narrow’ path.

The influence of older people who were more than happy to talk about their lives and their experiences have been key in helping me to avoid potential problems. And with the support of my Dad and his “Let’s do something practical” attitude to life, I kept out of trouble at school.

“Volunteering and my model aircraft business have given me the building blocks for life. Both have helped me to stay on the ‘straight and narrow’. Over the years I have met some fantastic role models who have helped me a lot to see life one step ahead.”  

A couple of years ago, I was very fortunate to volunteer in Bangladesh with an organisation called VSO – VSO is a voluntary organisation that sends volunteers overseas to help disadvantaged communities. The Canal Society helped me with my application – they were able to vouch that through my volunteering I had shown commitment, dedication and that I was reliable – key requirements for a VSO project.

Upon returning home to the UK, we were asked to carry out what VSO calls “Action at Home”. My project was to walk the Pembrokeshire Coast Path with two friends in support of the Alzheimer’s society. We raised over £2,000 for the charity.

After recovering from the Pembrokeshire coastline, I felt I could do more and have recently been asked to go on BBC Radio Surrey to spread the message about volunteering as well as to speak about my experiences in Bangladesh.

Would I recommend volunteering with Basingstoke Canal Society?

Absolutely! It’s something that I would recommend to any young or older person. It’s really about ‘Give back’ to society and I encourage you to get involved.

“Basingstoke Canal society is a fantastic organisation to volunteer with. The people are amazing from the staff through to your fellow volunteers. It’s always an enjoyable experience… even when it’s raining!”

Find out more

For more information about how you can get involved as a volunteer with Basingstoke Canal Society, please go to our Volunteer page. You can also contact Ken Sankey on 07850 652769 or at