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Canal campaigner praises “fantastic” local volunteers

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HARDWORKING volunteer Derek Flexer is taking a well-earned rest from leading the local restoration of a former waterway.

Derek is stepping down as chairman of the Melksham, Chippenham & Calne branch of the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust. He became a familiar face after being elected in 2012, helping to secure a series of awards as well as national and international recognition of the charity’s work.

Derek was looking for a voluntary role which provided a physical challenge and was drawn to the Canal Trust after seeing the restoration near Lacock.

He said, “The past three years have gone by in a flash but it’s been a very busy and immensely enjoyable time.

“I’ve tried to increase our professionalism in terms of organisation and public presentation, proving that we can be trusted with restoring this historic waterway.

“Unfortunately I might need to move away, which is why I’m stepping down, but I’m sure I’ll find another way to help whatever happens.”

During every year of Derek’s chairmanship, the branch has received the prestigious Tony Davy Award for donating the highest number of hours to the restoration effort – last year they provided an impressive 6,594 hours.

In addition, Derek was presented with an international award from former employer Motorola Solutions in recognition of his voluntary work with the charity, and the increasing interest in the Lacock stretch resulted in a feature on BBC TV’s popular ‘Escape to the Country’ series.

Another sign of his success has been the growth in branch membership from around 450 to more than 600 supporters, which has enabled the charity to organise large-scale events such as the Pewsham Open Days and the Melksham River Festival.

Many of the events and awards have been featured in national waterways magazines.

Derek said, “I’ve been delighted by the fantastic efforts of our wonderful and enthusiastic team who have always worked so hard to bring the canal back to life – turning out in all weathers at our workparties or fundraising events, or working behind the scenes with the multitude of meetings and reports.

“I am incredibly proud of everything that we’ve achieved together and I wish them all the best for the future.”

The new branch chairman will be elected at the AGM early this month.

The aim of the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust is to restore the waterway from the Kennet & Avon Canal near Melksham to the Thames & Severn Canal near Cricklade and the River Thames near Abingdon, linking Chippenham, Calne, Royal Wootton Bassett and Swindon.