Thames21 is the voice for London's waterways. The charity mobilises over 9,000 volunteers every year to clean and green the capital's rivers and canals, for the benefit of people and wildlife. This month, we joined the ranks of those volunteers, taking part in a team-building clean-up session at Mudlark Pier, North Greenwich.
We were ill-prepared when we turned up with the guys from our tech team and our friends from @LDN and Handpicked London. Only one person brought a change of clothes with them and one turned up in a pristine white t-shirt. Kitted out with Thames21 boots and gloves and dubiously wielding trowels, spades and bin bags, we were let loose on the surprisingly sucky foreshore.
Well-briefed for health & safety, our instructions were simple: to pick up anything metal or plastic and stick it in the rubbish barge. Warily, we started to gather bits and bobs but quickly sussed out that the barge was beached on a particularly muddy patch, making it impossible to approach without sinking boot deep. And that's when the muddy magic kicked in - there was a problem to solve and the team jumped to it. Planks of wood were sourced as duck boards and a production line formed to pass rubbish along and dump it. The team building had begun but we were having too much fun to notice.
Colleagues clubbed together to lug four car radiators chained together across the beach and heave it onto the ship. A tractor tyre took a trio to roll it through the mud and with someone up on the barge trying to work out how to haul it aboard. People shout encouragement and whoop as the tyre's hoisted up. Some stick to the higher, drier ground, while those unafraid of sinking into the mud dig around the moored boats, clearing hazards from the vicinity. "Treasures" are compared: a whole ashtray, an old bottle, a metal panel with an etching of a ship on it just visible beneath a screen of sticky mud. Some get obsessed with one submerged item, single-handedly digging it up. Others collaborate in heaving out oddities, a trench coat, a beer crate, loads of rusted tools. For an onlooker, it's Myers-Briggs in action.
The massive iron girder brings everyone together. Some help drag it to the boat, people call out directions and make suggestions, brave folk pitch in to lever the girder up and into the barge. One guy's white t-shirt is definitely ruined but the cheer when the girder slides into place is only matched by the hilarity of one of the group needing to be dug out of the mud during the exertions.
We enjoyed the experience so much we asked Thames21 to be our charity partner for the next few months and they agreed. What this means is we'll be bringing you further features on what they do (way more than mudlarking) and letting you know about opportunities to get involved and muddy yourself.
In the meantime, visit www.thames21.org.uk to find out more.