I’ve been a member of the Wildlife Trust for several years, but it was only after taking early retirement from a global IT company in 2019 that I had the chance to roll my sleeves up and get involved. Having used the Cromford Canal towpath recreationally for 20 years, on foot and by bike, I then noticed a derelict cottage emerging from the vegetation as a number of trees were removed. The next time I passed by the windows and door were boarded up, but with impressive paintings of the local wildlife. It seemed like somebody was getting interested in Aqueduct Cottage. So was I.
I’m not a big user of social media but it was through Facebook that I came across the unique project to restore the cottage and create a fantastic gateway into the magnificent Lea Wood nature reserve. After brief conversations with Ron and Alex, the two leading lights behind the project, I took the plunge and joined one of the working parties in October 2019. It was clear from the start that this was a real community effort on an amazing project combining history, culture and wildlife.
Over the course of the last 20 months the work involved has been extremely satisfying and very varied but must of all it has been a whole lot of fun and great exercise. I’ve done many, many trips along the towpath with wheelbarrows full of debris as we dug out and cleared the site, and many, many trips in the opposite direction as materials were carried to the site. I’ve dismantled and rebuilt walls, cleared vegetation and planted some too, helped remove huge tree roots and begun to restore gardens. One of the highlights for me has been the creation of a stairway into Lea Wood, an epic landscaping challenge which will provide superb access to this special reserve for years to come. The other key highlight has been the opportunity to work alongside real craftsmen using traditional methods and materials to restore the building to its former glory.
This has been a real labour of love for all of us involved. Many of us have worked through torrential rain, driving snow and freezing temperatures but my abiding memory will be of the sunshine on a Monday morning and the sense of community and teamwork as the volunteers regrouped to make further progress. I’ve hated Monday mornings for 50 years, but not anymore, now I really look forward to them.
Seeing what this team of volunteers of all shapes and sizes have been able to achieve has been truly inspiring. The mutual support and camaraderie have been something special with everyone made to feel extremely welcome and their contribution valued, no matter how much or little they’ve been able to offer. There’s also been something special about working on a project with strong links to Florence Nightingale, a poignant connection given what we’ve been living through over recent months.
We’ve come a long way with this work since it first started and I feel privileged to have played a small part. This a unique project for the Trust and a unique bunch of people have come together to make it happen. A real testament to the power of volunteering…and we haven’t finished yet.
I think Florence would be so chuffed!