A FORMER tugman on the Manchester Ship Canal is among a group of volunteers recognised for successfully saving a heritage steamship moored in Cheshire.

Decades on from mooring up the Daniel Adamson, for what everyone thought was her final official voyage, Colin Leonard is still heavily involved.

Launched in 1903, The Danny, as she is affectionately known, is the last surviving steam-powered tug to be built on the Mersey. Indeed, she is thought to be the oldest operational Mersey-built ship anywhere in the world.

However, after the decline of shipping on the canals of North-West England her fate was uncertain until being saved by a team of people who were passionate about her past.

In a year that has seen heritage visitor attractions like the Cheshire-moored vessel battle for their very survival thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, the work of volunteers such as 73-year-old Colin is particularly poignant this Volunteers’ Week (June 1-7).

“I never thought I would be sailing on her 37 years later, as I thought she would have gone for scrap a long time ago,” said Colin. “So I felt it was only natural for me to get involved in her new life and keeping her afloat.”

Originally known as the Ralph Brocklebank, the tug was built to tow barges laden with goods from Cheshire and the Potteries to Liverpool. She also worked as an unarmed patrol boat during the First World War.

In 1922, she was bought by the Manchester Ship Canal Company (MSCC) to carry passengers to the inland docks of Manchester, then the cotton capital of the world.

The vessel was then chosen as the MSCC’s official director’s launch in 1936 when she was renamed after company founder Daniel Adamson and underwent a radical Art Deco refit. The Danny keep tugging for several decades but her towing duties became less frequent and in 1984 the MSCC withdrew her from service.

In 2004, she was earmarked for scrapping but her future was secured by the volunteer-led Daniel Adamson Preservation Trust and 11 years later £3.8m in Heritage Lottery Funding was secured to restore her to full working order.

The Danny is now celebrating the fifth anniversary of her restoration, with the living museum recently confirming its 2021 cruise schedule after a 21-month suspension of services.

And it is thanks in very large part to its volunteers such as Leonard, from Runcorn, Cheshire, who puts in hours as a member of the deck crew, organises attendees for outside events and assists in educational services, taking The Danny’s story into local schools and colleges.

When asked what he particularly likes about his work with The Danny, he says: “Knowing I have played a part in keeping an important part of our maritime heritage preserved for future generations.”

Leonard’s wife Sheila, 71, also volunteers as an office administrator where she liaises with members, organising talks and works with the fundraising team.

Like her husband, she gets a strong sense of satisfaction being part of a team that helped keep this bit of maritime history afloat. “My life has been so busy and fulfilling since I have been a volunteer – I would recommend to anyone who is a bit lonely or needs to make new friends to join us on The Danny.”

However, Dan Cross, 47, a tug master in Cheshire/Merseyside, who is also a volunteer captain, marine superintendent and former chairman at the Danny, urges people from any ability and background to consider volunteering.

“We’re very keen to recruit younger volunteers, we need to make volunteering sexy to the younger ones and not frowned upon as a crowd of anoraks.”

Sarah Vibert, interim CEO, NCVO said: “As in this story, volunteers are always working at the heart of every UK community. Volunteers’ Week is an important chance for everyone to recognise all of those who deliver important work as volunteers. The pandemic has rightly raised the profile of volunteering and more people than ever are aware of the immense contribution being made every single day by the amazing volunteers across the country. We must ensure this recognition continues. That is why this 37th annual Volunteers’ Week is an important time to say: thank you volunteers!”

* The nation's much-loved heritage steamship The Danny, will be open for guided tours from this weekend (Sat 29th, Sun 30th & Mon 31st May) and then every weekend until the maritime maiden resumes her cruising schedule at the beginning of July. 

Between 11 am - 4 pm, those wanting a personalised tour of one of the world's heritage steamships can do so for free, as volunteers will proudly show and share the history and their love affair with this iconic vessel.

The Danny volunteers will welcome aboard visitors this 'step-back-in-time' tour of the ship while moored at Sutton Weaver Swing Bridge, Cheshire. 

This free of charge experience welcomes people of all ages on board for a unique on-deck visit experience of the last remaining steamship in operation in the country - possibly the world.