The Pirate Castle is a community-based charity which (apart from a few incredibly hard-working core staff) is almost entirely run by volunteers. With an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ ethos, it has an amazing network of helpers who bring their individual talents to help everyone onto the water to enjoy what Regent's Canal has to offer - no matter what their background, or physical or mental abilities.
Hazel came to Pirate Castle when she was a child in the ’70s and loved it! Playing and developing her skipper skills from a very young age helped build her confidence and introduced her to a fun watery world she always wanted to be a part of. In 2006, she decided to give back to the charity that had given her so much joy and laughter when she was little.
Hazel was trained by Pirate Castle and gained her Skipper license in 2007, and she has remained volunteer crew ever since. Pirate Castle has helped her in many different ways over the years. She says: “They’ve been so kind to me so I will always have time for them. I’ll be a volunteer here as long as I’m physically able to.”
Hazel’s favourite thing to do is to go out on the canal boat which is specially adapted for people with disabilities. She explains: “It just gives them such an amazing experience... To see people’s happy faces as they can have full accessibility in their wheelchairs on the boat - it’s truly amazing… It’s so lovely to get different people out who wouldn’t normally get to experience the benefits of the water.”
Through her 13 years’ volunteering, Hazel has learnt all the skills she’s needed to run her own boat business, but she’s determined to always be part of the Pirate Castle crew.
Lorraine started helping children’s schemes at Pirate Castle as she wanted to gain some experience with kids for her teaching qualification, and later wanted to learn more about skippering and boating skills as she had her own boat. She says: “You learn first-hand from professionals here, which is so valuable.”
Pirate Castle was born the same year as Lorraine so she feels a personal affinity with it and has been volunteering for about 7 years.
One of her favourite things to do is to get out and about on the water with the new friends she’s made through the years. Once a year the crew go on their own Skippers’ Holiday and have a merry trip down the Thames.
Lorraine shares her reasons for coming back year after year:
“I love doing trips with the crew! Seeing the smiles on the kiddies faces, and those others who wouldn’t normally come out, including those with special needs.
“Being on the water is a pretty special feeling in itself as it feels that no one can touch you. I think everyone feels peaceful and happy around water - it was how we were protected before we came into the real world. We all have a special connection with the water and I don’t think anyone should be excluded from that, and that’s what Pirate Castle does and that’s why I volunteer.”
So what can you do?
If these incredible ladies have inspired you to spend some of your free time supporting wildlife or communities near your local stretch of water, then there are many ways you can get involved. You can start small by picking up that crisp packet on your walk home along the canal, or you can make a splash with an afternoon on the river either cleaning or getting kids on the water!
Here are some options for you to volunteer:
- Take part in a Thames 21 river clean. Get stuck in to clean up your local waterways and get that feel-good factor straight away!
- Volunteer with The Pirate Castle. This amazing community project will get you feeling so good you’ll feel like you’ve found buried treasure!
- Use your next team away day as an opportunity to bond on the river with a water-based volunteering activity'
- Do a sponsored swim/walk/run to raise money for your favourite water charity.
- Get litter-picking on your next waterside walk.
- Do-it.org is a database of UK volunteering opportunities. There’s a huge database of more than a million volunteering opportunities, so you can search for some watery options.
- Join In* runs volunteering projects as a legacy of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. You’ll find a range of options - from helping in disabled swimming classes to volunteering at big sports events.
- Tideway Sailability is a sailing club in central London which helps people with disabilities enjoy sailing - and they’re always looking for support.
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