Jonathan Bright, Digital Content Marketing Manager

The likes of away days, team building exercises and corporate social responsibility drives are supremely difficult to get right. Avoiding a cursory nod to doing something ‘good’ and building one’s culture is hard with even the best intention. So, who would have thought a couple of bin lids and a discarded shoe would hold the true key to all the above?

If you’ll indulge me for a few minutes, I’ll regale you with tales of finnCap’s big day out. We encourage our staff to use a couple of days a year to volunteer in a local community. And as our experience demonstrates, when you get the combination right, you can genuinely make a difference all round – happy company, happy community, happy team, happy you.

The place was the canal in East London’s trendy, industrialised Hackney Wick. A lovely locale of boats and barges, factories and studios, flats, cafes and bars all touching the water’s edge and overlooked by the famous Olympic (now West Ham United’s) stadium.

Our ever-delightful hosts were Moo Canoes. Our team were to embark on a day of litter picking in the canal. In canoes. If that wasn’t clear.

I should say here that I decided to write this blog from personal perspective because this particular district is quite personal to me. I currently live not too far from Moo Canoes’ spot and frequent it often; there was once a time when I’d spend countless hours in Hackney Wick’s warehouses partying till the early light; I had my stag do at one of the canal side bars; and I’d lived for several happy years in a flat whose garden was literally on the water, a little further down the canal. It was a home I adored, but I also know too well how the canal litter collects. So, for me at least, this was a community I was all too happy to be able to give something back to.

During an initial briefing we were handed lifejackets, gloves, oars, bright blue bin bags and one of those pincers on a stick to grab stuff with. We were then duly warned not to pick up anything ‘that had once been alive’ and not to open any bottles with closed lids because god only knows what’s inside them. And with that, teams of three were plonked in a boat and sent on our merry way.

Quickly we learnt that the front two paddlers should act as engine, the rear paddler the steering, and that any wild, sudden movements to grab a passing beer can should be discouraged. Not that that stopped one team from entering the water within half an hour. Let’s face it, it was bound to happen; I’m just smug it wasn’t us.

Capsize aside, what followed was a most agreeable, peaceful floating amble in the sunshine through the canal waters, from lock to lock and side to side, zealously spotting litter with the zest of three kids on an Easter egg hunt. Working as a team one would steady the boat while the other reached and grabbed. The operation became almost clinical in its execution.

And what of our bounty? Well, as mentioned, not one but two bin lids were our crowning trophies. Countless cans that once held Strongbow or Kronenbourg, now demoted to holding some kind of indescribable black sludge, quite a lot of plastic bagging and bits of polystyrene, a Nike shoe in reasonably good condition – another team picked up another Nike shoe at the opposite lock; we’re yet to find out if they were once a pair, tragically separated by the undercurrent. There was an inflatable toy, and a team found a ‘Men Working Overhead’ sign (the HR Director was not impressed at its discriminatory undertone, and perhaps it was best this had been discarded).

At one point a group of local ladies, enjoying the sunshine on their doorstep overlooking the canal, surveyed our boat and operation studiously, before launching into an acapella chorus of “Rock the Boat, Don’t Rock the Boat, Baby!”

“Jinx the Boat, Don’t Jinx the Boat!” seemed the appropriate reply, and we then proceeded to wobble precariously. Laughing, our new friends thanked us and said we were doing a good thing. As someone that once lived in a not so dissimilar position further down the canal, I can’t deny that was nice.

Badly keeping a straight line to the finishing point, we all zig zagged back – one team almost getting run over by a passing barge – and with a mountain of full blue bin bags to our name, I think it’s safe to say we all felt pretty good about ourselves.

We got away from the desk for a day, we team-built, and we did a little, local, good thing. Massive love to Moo Canoes, who do this every week. Cheers.