Thames21 celebrates its volunteers at annual reception

“Corporate volunteering is about community action not just sponsorship” a key Thames21 partner told the charity’s annual reception on Thursday evening.

Clyde Muir, Vice President, Brand & Marketing at Royal Bank of Canada Capital Markets, said his company’s staff were proud to volunteer and make a difference in the community – and that the Canadian bank wanted to do something for the country they trade in.

Clyde Muir giving a speech
Clyde Muir of Royal Bank of Canada. Photo by Justine Trickett

The theme of the evening was Celebrating Volunteering, with speeches reflecting the perspectives of a volunteer, a corporate partner and a poignant tribute to Chris Stafford, a much-loved volunteer since 2012 who died of cancer earlier this year.

Royal Bank of Canada, based in central London, regularly takes part in corporate volunteering days with Thames21 and Clyde said: “We have a lot of fun cleaning up the River Thames.”

After spending hours on the trading floor in front of computers at their work place, he said staff relished the chance to get a break by getting out on the River Thames for activities which help develop their team work and leadership skills.

“Volunteering is about community action, not just about sponsorship. People are proud when they volunteer,” he explained to more than 100 guests on the Dixie Queen, moored just outside Tower Bridge.

“The relationship with Thames21 over the last few years has been terrific. We’re pushing at the top to make volunteering to be the next big thing and you guys are ideally positioned to be at the top of that tree.”

To compliment this, Lina Allu explained how her involvement with Thames21 began two years ago with a random chat with a birdwatcher who enthused her about the work that the charity does.

She soon became involved in the Thames River Watch citizen science programme to understand the health of the Thames and got involved in testing water quality. She then moved on to riverfly monitoring which tests water quality by measuring invertebrate levels and trained as an Event Support Team member.

Lina, who featured on the front of the invite for the evening, said she had learned about the “monumental impact” of sewage overflow in the River Thames and about the ’massive problem of litter. “I was oblivious to this, having grown up in Sweden,” she said, adding that she was shocked both by the type of items, such as mattresses, and how frequently they were found.

But while growing up abroad might have given her reason to not know about the problems, she added that there was a “gap in knowledge” here about the problems faced by waterways. “I found that many people were equally oblivious to the litter and sewage problems and I was surprised how many people were unaware about the impact on our river.”

Two people chatting to each other
Staff spoke to guests about their projects Photography by Justine Trickett

Her speech was followed by an emotional tribute about long-serving volunteer Chris Stafford – who died earlier this year – by Thames21’s Deputy Chief Executive Chris Coode, who shared his passion for diving and would look forward to hearing about his latest exploits from trips he had been to abroad.

The late Chris Stafford

Having retired from his job in IT, Chris Stafford discovered the London Borough of Lewisham’s Rivers and People project in the Ravensbourne catchment.

“He liked the practical work and became committed to his local river and the training,” said Chris. “He broadened his knowledge of environmental issues and was a regular River Quaggy volunteer, but also came to volunteer in various areas, from the non-tidal Thames to the Tidal Thames.

Just before Chris Stafford died, he was given the accolade of UK River Champion 2017 by the River Restoration Centre, for his work as a volunteer.

“He was reliable, committed and dependable,” said Chris, who concluded “He was a dedicated volunteer, a lovely man and our friend.”

In her concluding speech, Debbie Leach, Thames21’s chief executive, outlined how our work in the past financial year had engaged 35,000 people and involved 8,000 people directly cleaning up rivers – with 221 tonnes of litter cleared in partnership with the Port of London Authority.

She paid tribute to the many volunteers who took part in all kinds of projects, from Stanmore Marsh, where a new wetlands was opened in the summer, to planting reedbeds on the River Lea.

She also mentioned how the Thames Pulse light installation helped highlight the fluctuating health of the Thames, as it is connected to Environment Agency probes giving a daily reading of that section of river. The Thames Pulse light installation was commissioned by MEC UK on the side of Sea Containers House next to Blackfriars Bridge. It was unveiled in March and displays different lighting patterns depending on the health of the river.

Lina Allu talks about volunteering Photography by Justine Trickett