Floods offer new look to Wetherby’s waterfront

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Our Wetherby with columnist Roger Bealey.
It is a Saturday morning and the floods have just subsided enough for us to walk along the path under the bridge.

It’s surprising how little damage has been done in that area. The turf around the bandstand is a bright green and thriving. A huge log has been washed up on the paving next to one of the picnic tables and a man is sitting upon it in preference to one of the bench seats. The greater height probably makes it more comfortable for him.

The “please don’t feed the ducks on the grass” sign has been washed away from its usual position and has been propped against one of the seats in the picnic area. Some sand and mud has been washed onto the footpaths and would, not so long ago, have been hosed off by volunteers of the Wetherby Weir Preservation Trust - but there aren’t so many now and they’re all getting older. 

There hasn’t been much damage done and it is a real tribute to the volunteers of the Trust who spent hundreds of hours concreting, building walls, paths and ramps; laying turf, paving stones and installing seating and picnic tables after they’d finished rebuilding the weir. All the work at the side of the river was done by volunteers.

After the weir had been rebuilt, the second project in 1985 was to construct the riverside wall downstream of the bridge to restrain erosion of the riverbank and form further seating areas.

Old stone kerbs were acquired and used and a slipway incorporated to give access to the river bed for maintenance.

The area between the wall and path was turfed but throughout the early 90’s a combination of deposits of silt from flooding; moles and the grass being used as a feeding area for ducks combined to ruin the turf.

So in 1996 the regular group of volunteers began a two-year project to replace the turf with stone sett paving bedded and jointed in mortar. Somehow they also found time to build the picnic areas and maintain them.

Then Wetherby in Bloom was formed and their volunteers transformed the embankment on the other side of the Wilderness car park with their plantings.

During Millennium year WWPT took the initiative again and raised funds to build the bandstand, again with volunteer labour - but that is a story for another day.

There aren’t many towns which can boast of such an attractive riverside area and none that I know of, where all the inspiration, planning, fund-raising and work has been done by volunteers rather than the council.

They’ve all been big and imaginative projects which have inspired people and brought out the best in them.

We walked under the bridge, pausing to look at the weir and the large iron drive wheel from the old mill ‘found’ during excavation for the adjacent flats and offered to the WWPT as a feature and another project. “Found”, said one of the Dean brothers to me, “it was never lost. We’d buried it to get it out of the way when working on the old ballroom which previously occupied the site”.

Then we walked over the bridge and onto the Ings. By this time the floods had subsided just enough for us to walk along the riverbank path; now a causeway with water on both sides.

At the far end of the flooded playing fields, the floods were right up to the hedge and we had to retrace our steps and go back through the kissing gate to reach the Sports Association.

I needed to go to the Sports Association to pay my subscription. A handwritten note at the bottom of the renewal letter from Claire said: “It will be nice to have yourself and Susie as members again. She is part of our WSA family!!”

Whilst sipping my coffee and waiting for the bacon butty; I overheard Warren Coates telling a prospective new member that Wetherby Athletic Junior FC is always looking for volunteers to help with training the increasing number of junior footballers.

He explained that universities, colleges and employers are looking for more than just your academic skills, including proof of voluntary and/or work related experience and that the club could help with this.

And he advised that anyone with a Level 1 or 2 football coaching qualification and an up-to-date CRB, were always welcome to provide additional input of new ideas and training practices to help the team of junior managers.

I’d thought this was one of the best explanations I’d heard as to why young people should become volunteers and said so to Warren afterwards.

“It’s a war zone out there for young people when they’re applying for a job or for university” he said.

“They need all the help they can get.”