Last year, we were given an amazing opportunity to deliver 30 events; all of which were designed to help educate, inspire, and empower the local community to improve the River Medway’s health. This was thanks to the National Lottery Fund, an organisation that distributed funds to ‘good causes,’ who generously granted us £9994. During the course of the year, we focused on providing a wide range of events with the aim of engaging as many people as possible. These ranged from wildlife adventures, educational and practical workshops and talks, festivals and celebrations, conservation activities, and art-inspired activities to help connect people to the river. As the grant draws to a close, we felt that it would be a good opportunity to provide a summary of all the different events that were carried out during this time.
To kickstart the year, we organised an informal gathering by the River Medway; a beautiful candle-lit evening that attracted a variety of people, all of whom were invited to share poetry, songs, and reflections. This was also used as an opportunity to explore the different types of events that people were interested in, helping guide the programme for the rest of the year.
At the end of February and early March we ran three consecutive bird watching events; events that were organised in partnership with Friends of Weir Wood. The first two events were run for classes 5a and 5b from Michael Halls school, all of whom were learning about the waterways of the British Isles. With help from volunteers at Friends of Weir Wood, the children learnt about the different birds that inhabit the reservoir, as well as their migration patterns, using binoculars to spot the different species. Following this, the children were taught about the importance of water conservation and encouraged to dream up unique ways of how we might reduce water consumption, which led to responses including flushing the toilet less, re-using bath and shower water, and collecting water from leaves! 30 of the 40 children signed up to be ‘water guardians,’ committing to a month of water conservation actions such as reusing shower water. The third event followed a similar format, but was open to families and adults. The people that joined were surprised at the variety of birds that live at the reservoir, including the Egyptian Goose, Canada Goose Mallard, Cormorant, and Nuthatch, and all expressed the value of learning about and connecting to the wildlife that lives on our doorstep.
In March, we created an exciting project called “Grow in Frow,” a food growing project at Forest Row’s youth centre, the VENue, which aimed to raise awareness about the value of growing organic food and its role in improving water quality.. The children (ages 10+) were actively involved in putting the cardboard down to create the beds (a no-dig method of farming), moving the soil in wheelbarrows into the planters, planting the seeds, watering and tending the plants, and cultivating the crops. The children were shocked about the harm that commercial agriculture can have on waterways, and displayed their enthusiasm about the growing process.
To celebrate World Water Day (22nd March), we ran a mini festival by the River Medway; an event that focused on delivering art workshops and educational talks on the importance of rivers. People were invited to participate in the co-creation of a flower mandala, which was subsequently placed into the river as an offering; a ceremony that was used to connect people to the ancient traditions of reciprocity between people and nature. The event helped build a sense of community and connection to the River, whilst also serving as an opportunity to discuss the different ways in which we can help promote better river health.
We closed the month with a wildlife walk, which was led by a local ecologist and guide at Knepp Estate, Tom Forward. The event involved a 2-hour walk by the River Medway, which included the identification and discussion of the different species that inhabit the river and its banks, as well as stories about the River Medway’s evolution and development. Everyone that joined stated that they felt that they had learnt something new, being inspired by the different species encountered.
On the 1st of May, we ran a river-focused celebration of May Day; an ancient festival that is used to commemorate the beginning of summer. Ahead of the event, a clay water goddess was moulded by a talented member of the Friends of the River Medway, which was adorned with flowers during the event. People were invited to share a prayer for the River Medway, helping to connect people’s visions and wishes for the river’s health. The water goddess was subsequently carried and placed into a tributary of the River Medway, accompanied by beautiful folk songs. Following this, a local band played and people were encouraged to participate in a dance around the Maypole, as well as enjoy a delicious variety of food. In total, the event attracted more than 180 people, all of whom came from different villages and towns across the Upper Medway.
On 21st May, Friends of the River Medway and the South East Rivers Trust co-ran a litter pick by the River Medway, which was used as a platform to engage the community, and to help gain an understanding of the types of rubbish that are most common. This helped raised important conversations about how to prevent rubbish escaping into the river in the long-term; discussions that were subsequently used to form the proceeding plastic workshops and consultations.
Ahead of Water Saving Week (23rd and 27th May 2022), we ran a series of talks at a local venue in Forest Row (the Hopyard) to help raise awareness about the importance of water, the different ways in which it can be saved, and mindful water consumption. The talks included a discussion of the Rights of Rivers by Paul Powlesland, an environmental lawyer and activist that founded Lawyers for Nature; the connection between food waste and water waste by Tristram Stuart, an international award-winning author, speaker, and campaigner; household ways of minimising water consumption by Zofia Page, the coordinator and project manager for Friends of the River Medway; and a Q&A with a local author, Sarah Butler, about her journeys along the River Medway.
In June, we ran two skunk cabbage removals - a non-native invasive species that has taken root in several tributaries of the River Medway. Volunteers joined equipped with spades and gloves, fuelled by home-baked cakes and refreshing teas. In total, the volunteers managed to remove around 60kg of the plant; an impressive amount considering the relatively small team.
During the Forest Row Festival, Friends of the River Medway ran several workshops to help engage the community about the river, as well as the ways in which they could help prevent pollution from entering it. People were invited to write poetry and draw using the river as their muse; and to engage in a “truth or dare” game, a game that was created to help raise awareness about the problems that the river faces, as well as how these problems can be overcome. 30 people took up different pledges to help the River Medway, including installing a water butt to reduce water conservation, switching to eco-friendly cleaning products, and joining in Plastic Free July.
To commemorate Plastic Free July, we ran a workshop at Seasons Cafe (Forest Row) to help raise awareness about the problems of plastic, but most importantly, what people can do to reduce their plastic consumption. The events included mini demos to show how to make DIY cleaning products, toiletries, and food items such as tofu, plant-based milk, and granola.
In the beginning of August, we ran several workshops at a local festival - Good Vibrations - focusing on raising awareness about the problems the river faces, actions that people can take, and a workshop to help connect people to the river. This included another “truth or dare” game, as well as the setting up a “river wishing installation,” where the public were invited to share their dreams for the river, as well as their concerns. On the last day, we ran a ceremony rooted in Andean traditions to help connect people to the river and as a community.
Mid-August, in partnership with DAWNs, a local organisation that runs events for disabled members of the community, we organised an art workshop by the River Medway; an event that was run with the aim of further inspiring connection, but also encouraging a wider reach. The day brought in a variety of people and ages, from 8+, and produced beautiful paintings and drawings inspired by the river.
In response to the outrage produced by the sewage discharges into Sussex beaches late August, we ran a sewage consultation to help unite the different voices, perspectives, and actions against raw sewage disposal into British waterways. This was used as an opportunity to create awareness about one of the major causes of water pollution (i.e., sewage discharges), to connect the community, and to create useful action.
To celebrate World Rivers Day, we organised a day full of events; all of which took place at Tablehurst Farm by the River Medway. The event was promoted across the Upper Medway and included a variety of different workshops; such as, identification of species, art-based activities, singing, storytelling, a tea ceremony, and a flower offering rooted in Andean traditions. This attracted around 100 people, including children and adults, many of whom expressed their gratitude towards having the opportunity to come together in celebration of the River, as was once commonplace.
Shortly after the River Festival, we organised two events on World Food Waste Day (29th September); one at Good & Green (East Grinstead), the other at Seasons Cafe (Forest Row). This included information on the connection between food waste and water wastage and how this might be prevented. Demonstrations were created to help people think about the different ways in which they might use up scraps, leftovers, and prevent food waste in the home. This was followed by discussions on the structural changes that might need to take place to prevent food waste en-masse, as well as highlighting distinct local projects that are taking place to help remedy the situation (e.g., local Community Fridges). Yummy and inventive canapés were provided, all of which used up foods that ordinarily go to waste (such as carrot tops).
To close the month, we put on a final event to celebrate “Organic September,” using it as an opportunity to highlight the importance of buying and growing organic food to help improve water quality. Taking place at a local growing project, we ran through the process of growing food, explaining the importance of no-dig systems and the synergies between healthy soils and health waters, followed by a community meal created with the produce grown at the farm.
Mid-October, we ran another “Medway Adventures” event, taking place at the Weir Wood Reservoir. Volunteers from Friends of Weir Wood once again shared their expertise and insights about the different species that inhabit the area, taking the people that joined for the event to different areas that are normally forbidden access.
Connected to the theme of wildlife, Friends of the River Medway ran an event on World Habitat Day to create discussions on the importance of the River Medway as a habitat for all the different species that live in and near its banks. Members from Friends of Weir Wood, the Royal Tunbridge Wells Angling Society, and a local ecologist presented information about the local landscape, how it has changed, and what we can do to protect it.
Mid-October, we visited Danehill Primary School to run an assembly on the problems that the river faces, and how these might be overcome. The assembly included a participatory performance and song, all of which were used to engage the schoolchildren with the challenges of water pollution. Our education outreach consultant, Rebecca Rainbow, subsequently ran a group circle with Year 6, who were invited to share their concerns about river pollution, and to create solutions. The children put this into physical form via a “river map,” where they were encouraged to draw the present problems faced by rivers, and how they would like the river to look like in the future.
To commemorate World Soil Day, we organised a free film screening of The Seeds of Vandana Shiva,’ an excellent documentary that highlights the work of the eco-activist Vandana Shiva. The film discussed the connections between agriculture and water, further pointing to the importance of creating healthy agricultural systems for thriving waterways. This was followed by a talk from co-founder of Old Tree Soil, who presented the role of compost in helping facilitate healthier waterways. The evening ended with a plan to create a local compost club to help reduce soil erosion and further protect the River Medway.
Our final event, which took place in the beginning of 2023, was carried out in partnership with the South East Rivers Trust and their Preventing Plastic Pollution programme: a plastic consultation to discuss ideas on how we might minimise single-use plastic across the Upper Medway. The public were invited to share their perspectives on the problem, and how these issues might be overcome, resulting in three clear pathways: asking local businesses to encourage reusable takeaway boxes; addressing the use of single-use plastic in pubs; and speaking to the local Tesco Esso about their disposable gloves.
All of these events took place as a result of the support of our fabulous volunteers, local businesses, the community, and the generous offering of the National Lottery Community Fund. We would like to express our deepest thanks to everyone who contributed their time and resources to make this happen. It has been a wonderful year, with the opportunity to meet both new and old faces, and to further motivate, raise awareness, and generate action to help improve the River Medway’s health.