Hands-on engineering volunteering at HoverAid
Stuck for an activity for your teenagers over the school holidays? How about once-a-week volunteering in practical engineering, for a Christian charity maintaining its fleet of nine hovercraft? Established twenty years ago, HoverAid brings medical help up river to poor, remote communities in Madagascar.
Every Wednesday, HoverAid welcomes volunteers (adults and young people over ten) to its UK workshops. There’s lots of work to do, including fitting a new 300 horsepower diesel engine to a 50-foot craft, converting it into a field clinic, plus servicing an engine on a second craft, and restoring a third hovercraft for static display at festivals.
Maintenance Wednesdays for HoverAid take place on a farm near Uckfield, with geese, hens and pheasants wandering freely outside the workshop, a barn next to a pond used for test-flights. Part-inventor’s studio, part-engineering shop, it’s a serious working environment, with electrical and cutting equipment including welding torches and lathes all in use. A health and safety briefing begins every session. HoverAid welcomes responsible teenagers eager to learn, but it stresses that parents and volunteers of any age must realise that the charity offers no insurance protection. Participation is at volunteers’ risk.
Each Wednesday, Christian farmer Peter Gunning and his wife Faith provide a generous lunch to volunteers. Besides farming and evangelism, Peter is an inventor; a quarter-sized, London Eye-style wheel next to HoverAid’s barn was his attempt to build a wind-turbine to generate electricity.
HoverAid’s nine working craft, ranging from 20 to 60 feet in length, are either entirely self-built, or else are heavily innovated in-house. According to volunteer manager Mario Satchwell, an aeronautical engineer recently graduated from Liverpool University, in its two decades HoverAid has innovated an efficient means of twin-fan propulsion, making the craft more manoeuvrable at lower power through tight river bends. One major engineering firm pays attention; Ford send their trainee engineers to HoverAid’s to learn & innovate. From that arrangement came Ford’s donation of the new diesel, expected for delivery this August.