The Groups

The Waterway Recovery Group (WRG) was formed in 1970 to aid the restoration of Britain’s navigations by acting as a pressure group, giving assistance to local restoration groups, loaning equipment, giving advice and providing labour. WRG has evolved into a central co-ordinating body plus regional groups, three of which are involved in Dig Deep:


WRG BITM ("Bit In The Middle") was formed in 1986 by enthusiasts who felt that WRG needed a group forpeople living in the central area of England, the North and South being already supported by well established restoration groups, either affiliated to WRG or independent. BITM organise working party weekends once a month, visiting various projects in an area ranging from the South, East, West and North to the North Midlands.

As a result of working within a large catchment area, we regularly have weekends where people have travelled from areas such as Cornwall, Cambridge, Birmingham etc. to work on - say - the Wey and Arun Canal in Sussex.

We are a very informal, friendly group - appealing to people from all walks of life and ages. We do not have regular committee meetings, but instead discuss issues - during working weekends - informally, over a drink in the local watering hole - where anyone who wishes can contribute.

To support our activities we have a large van, fully equipped with tools and catering equipment.

London WRG

Formed in the 1960s as the mobile working party of the local branch of the Inland Waterways Association, London Waterway Recovery Group has worked on a variety of canal restoration projects mainly in the South of England, including a large amount of work on the Basingstoke Canal, and more recently the Thames & Severn and Wey & Arun canals. Occasionally we venture further afield: in recent years we have worked on the Montgomery and Chesterfield Canals and on the Lichfield Canal.

We are part of WRG, but we operate largely autonomously: we maintain our own equipment and are free to choose our own work sites. We do, however, join in WRG’s national activities such as their annual re-union weekend - a major working party held on a different site each year.

We hold working parties approximately every third weekend, and we can provide transport to most of them from central London in one of WRG’s minibuses.

Besides restoring canals, we organise social activities, including regular social evenings in a London pub, and occasional evening boat trips, barbecues and slide shows.

Every year we enter a boat for the pageant of decorated boats at London IWA’s Canalway Cavalcade rally at Little Venice.

Essex WRG

Essex WRG began life in about 1993. Its origins were in the Chelmsford Branch IWA Working Party which had led the restoration of Springfield Lock on the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation. Chelmsford Branch still actively supports Essex WRG and provides equipment to allow us to do our work.

After the restoration was complete some of the members who had previously been out on digs with other WRG groups decided that the skills they had learnt were too useful to be wasted. An application was made to the WRG board for their agreement to the setting up a group to be known as Essex WRG and the group was born.

The first dig was on the Thames and Severn at Wildmoreway Lock near South Cerney in Spring 1995. Since then we have worked on most of the Southern and Midland restorations within easy reach of Essex. We have also supported Reunion Weekends all over the UK.

Although nominally from Essex, we have regular support from members in Milton Keynes and Northamptonshire.

Our speciality is hedgelaying and we are willing to learn any old country crafts (including laying dry-stone walling) but we do have experience in bricklaying, as well as the usual (on-site) WRG activities.

Our members are more mature than some groups but we welcome all ages - and we do want some younger members to carry on the work. So if anybody should want to join us on any dig, just get in touch.


The group was formed in 1981 as the Newbury Working Party Group and was initially involved with restoration on the Kennet & Avon Canal. Later, NWPG became involved in the programme of working parties on the Basingstoke Canal, and also made less frequent working visits to restorations further afield.

The group led a project constructing wooden footbridges for most of the 29 Caen Hill Locks at Devizes on the Kennet and Avon. More recently we have turned our attention to projects on other, less advanced, restoration schemes, including the restoration of a lock on the Wey and Arun Canal and the establishment of the Dig Deep concept.

We have a weekend working party about once per month, together with a week-long work camp during the summer. Many members of the group live in Berkshire, but also come from as far afield as Worcestershire, Devon, Sussex and Bedfordshire.

We hold a social evening in a pub in Reading once per month, and also organise many other social activities.


The Kent & East Sussex Canal Restoration Group began life in the mid 70’s, working on the Basingstoke Canal.

The canal enjoyed full support from the local authorities who owned it. With no shortages of plant, materials or expertise, most of the canal was restored using volunteer labour. KESCRG benefited from this gaining invaluable skills including lock rebuilding, lock gate construction and bank protection works.

In 1983 the group ran its first Summer work camp. This was the beginning of a new era and introduced many new volunteers to the restoration movement. Many of the leading lights in the field of volunteer restoration today started in the movement through KESCRG during this period.

With the completion of the Basingstoke in 1991, works began on other canals. These including the Wey & Arun, Chichester, Kennet & Avon, Wilks and Berks, Thames & Severn, Droitwich, Montgomery, Huddersfield and Sleaford canals.

Although the group is based in the south east our volunteers are from all over the country, with an age range from those in their teens to their 60’s. With such a varied and knowledgeable crew, we have a very large skill base. This ranges from bricklayers to mechanics, and professional civil engineers to plant operators. Having these skills available enables us to tackle even the most difficult jobs with confidence, making full use of whatever equipment is available.

The group carries a large selection of hand tools and some small plant including a 3" pump and a generator making us self sufficient when on site. Personal safety equipment can be purchased on our workparties at trade price. All Dig Deep groups offer training and guidance on most aspects of restoration work and plant operation.

We operate within the Health and Safety at Work guidelines and have a very good safety record. Hard hats are supplied along with any other safety equipment required