Marsh Volunteer Award for Historic Vessel Conservation
This Award is run in partnership with National Historic Ships, the official voice for historic vessels in the United Kingdom. This award regonises those who have made a valuable contribution to the conservation, or operation of historic vessels in the UK and is an opportunity to recognise and thank outstanding volunteers.
The 2014 winner is Chris Leah
Chris set up the Wooden Canal Craft Trust in 1987, which changed its name to the Wooden Canal Boat Society in 1997, to maintain and restore two boats which he had been working to repair for many years: Forget Me Not and Lilith. Over the next few years, the organisation gained a strong reputation and acquired four more historically valuable boats, often working with British Waterways to do so.
Chris has been central to raising significant funds for the organisation. He was key in securing support from Tameside Council, which provided a boat-yard for the organisation. On the first Sunday of every month, Chris takes two boats out into the local community near the Ashton Canal, and with the help of other volunteers collects donations, whilst giving people the opportunity to learn more about the boats.
Perhaps Chris’s most significant contribution has been to bring historic boats to people in the community. Volunteers reported that spending time on the canal and boats helped to alleviate anxiety or depression. This encouraged Chris to rebuild the vessel ‘Hazel’ as a wellbeing boat for people recovering from mental health problems, people with disabilities and those who are marginalised within their community, to spend time on the boat and even learn new skills.
Chris has committed vast amounts and time, energy and passion to the conservation of historic vessels and to the community. The majority of his work is done as a volunteer and his vision and beliefs have helped the Wooden Canal Boat Society develop into the successful society it is today.