By Tabitha Potts, Digital Manager and Web Editor, UK
It’s a tradition at Blue Ventures to have an annual summer trip for staff to get to know each other better out of the office, have new experiences and some fun as well! As Blue Ventures’ digital media manager, I spend a lot of time at my desk, so was looking forward to a day outdoors. We decided the trip would be a great opportunity to explore London’s waterways and after a lot of research we thought the Angel Boat would be the perfect vessel for the Blue Ventures’ staff to use and pay a visit to London Zoo.
The Angel Boat is the working name of a charity (Angel Community Canal Boat Trust or ACCT) which operates a skippered community canal boat – Angel II of Islington – for use by local residents and community groups of all ages at a cost they can afford. Over 90% of The Angel Boat’s users are Islington residents, and most of them are from Islington’s most deprived area. . Theirs is a very worthy cause and we were delighted that profits from our trip would be going to such a great charity.
We embarked in Islington where the Angel II is moored and set off along the Regent’s Canal towards London Zoo. It’s a two hour trip and the leisurely pace means you have ample opportunity to get to know the canal. All of the team had a chance to help out at the locks on the Canal, helping to move the lock gates and let the water in and out. Ian explained that for many of the children who use the Angel II it is a real novelty to learn ‘real world’ mechanical skills (rather than computer gaming), as well as giving them a chance to learn to work as part of a team. We were lucky enough to have fine weather so also spent a lot of time sitting on the deck and enjoying the views of the waterways, architecture and wildlife.
Ian Barnett, our volunteer skipper, is very knowledgeable and was able to tell us a lot about the history of the canal. The 960 yards (878 m) Islington tunnel, for example, which was built in 1818, lacked a towpath so people had to pull their canal boats through by ‘legging’ (lying on planks in the bow of the boat and moving it by ‘walking’ along the sides of the tunnel). This was a very dangerous activity and many died – so the tunnel has lots of ghosts, as Ian told us.
We arrived at our destination in plenty of time to enjoy a delicious (and sustainably sourced) picnic lunch on board and complete a taxing general knowledge quiz set by our Managing Director Richard Nimmo (and won by our Research and Conservation Assistant Jo Hudson and her well-informed team). Then we set off to visit the zoo itself. Our first stop was the new Tiger Territory. Sumatran Tigers are very threatened in the wild and have lost 95% of their population in the last decade, so the zoo’s breeding programme plays a vital role in helping to conserve these beautiful big cats, and it’s wonderful to get a chance to observe them from a short distance away.
Another highlight of our trip to the Zoo was Penguin Beach. The zoo is very committed to conserving penguins and is currently studying them in Antarctica in a joint project with Oxford University.. Penguin Beach plays a crucial role in educating the zoo’s 1.2 million visitors about these endearing birds and the dangers facing them. Penguins are a delight to watch underwater, as you can at the zoo, the speed at which they can dive and swim is astonishing.
However, the zoo’s conservation efforts don’t only extend to high profile causes like the big cats and the penguins: I spotted some special nesting boxes that they have built to help the wild house sparrow whose numbers have been declining dramatically in recent years in London and the UK and who have found a haven in the zoo, especially in the Gorilla Kingdom! Two hours flew by almost too quickly visiting the many tropical birds in the Blackburn Pavilion, the aardvaarks (slumbering peacefully in their den), the okapis, the giraffes and the otters and then it was time for our return journey. I particularly enjoyed having the chance to steer the canal boat.
One thing that struck me about our trip was how important the work done by volunteers is in helping charities of all descriptions. We met lock keepers on our trip who volunteer for the Canal and River Trust and of course the Angel Boat II relies on volunteers like our skipper Ian. It’s not always possible for everyone who is interested in voluntary work to go overseas (though if you can, you should volunteer with Blue Ventures!) and it’s good to know that there is so much to do – and so many willing volunteers to donate their time and expertise – in the UK.