Page 1


contents 4



caSe StudieS


initial ScoPing reSearch (MethodS)


findingS of ScoPing reSearch PrinciPleS for

11 creative engageMent 13 eventS in eaStville 16 eventS in ShiPley 19 folloW-uP initiativeS engageMent

21 With SchoolS 22 evaluating iMPact concluSionS and

25 recoMMendationS

ProJect PerSonnel

eaStville caSe Study

Principal Investigator:

Stephen bottoms (the university of Manchester)

Project manager:

Professor lindsey Mcewen


lindsey Mcewen (university of the West of england, bristol)

Arts facilitator:

Jess allen

Advisory Group:

J.d. dewsbury (university of bristol)

Community engagement: alison crowther (Streets alive)

Michael guthrie (environment agency) owain Jones (university of gloucestershire) baz Kershaw (university of Warwick) helen nicholson (royal holloway, university of london) alison ParďŹ tt (Wildland research institute) Phil Smith (Plymouth university) Mike Wilson (falmouth university)

Jo bushell (uWe) School engagement:

lisa Worgan, alys Parkin (rio)

introduction this report documents the activities and findings of an interdisciplinary, twin-site research project supported by the Arts and Humanities research council (AHrc) during 2012-13, as part of its ‘care for the Future’ programme. responding to a challenge presented by the environment Agency (eA), Multi-Story Water explored the potential uses of site-specific arts practice in developing community awareness of local rivers and potential fluvial flood risk. comparable research was conducted in two urban case study areas – one in Bristol, the other in Bradford – where riverside populations were thought to be ‘hard to reach’. Initial scoping research was carried out, using doorstep surveys in at-risk neighbourhoods, as well as secondary demographic and flood risk data analysis. our findings subsequently informed the development of a raft of participatory, arts-based initiatives tailored to the geography and history of each location. this included innovative uses of theatre, storytelling, dance and film, as well as festive, ‘street party’-style activities. the emphasis was on engaging, informative activities that sought to inculcate or further develop ‘a watery sense of place’ among local residents – using creative methods to inspire reflection rather than raise alarm. Both engagement figures and qualitative feedback suggest that response to the project among local communities was strongly positive in both case study areas. the project developed and modelled a range of complementary engagement practices which are potentially adaptable for use in other at-risk locations. to achieve this, we emphasise the need for, and benefits of, partnership working. For example, the eA (or other authorities with responsibility for flood risk management) might work in target areas alongside relevant partners such as universities, schools, theatre companies, community and faith groups. such co-working also aids affordability and can leverage alternative funding streams. the efficacy of arts engagement is notoriously difficult to measure in direct, causal terms. However, evaluation of responses to the MsW project suggests that activities of this sort can play a significant role in preparing or predisposing people to think about water in the environment. the potential value of this approach should not be underestimated, given the resistance to standard ‘knowledge transfer’ communication strategies identified in previous research.

ShiPley caSe Study


Project manager:

Professor Stephen bottoms

Layout designer:

Arts facilitator:

Simon brewis

Photography credits:

Community engagement:

trevor roberts (canal connections)


Milan govedarica

Karen daniel hannah ranken (eastville) yvonne roberts (Shipley) (unless otherwise indicated)

DVD preparation:

Note: this report has been prepared with a variety of possible audiences in mind, and readers should feel free to attend to whichever sections seem most relevant to them.

lee dalley


1.1 InItIAL cHALLenge

the Multi-Story Water project (MsW) arose as a direct result of previous AHrc investment in a constellation of research networks designed to address the theme of researching environmental change (rec, 2010-11). 1 Members from two of these networks collaborated to develop MsW:

the project emerged from a provocation presented at the final meeting of the site-Based performance network (Kings college London, May 2011), by Michael guthrie, then the environment Agency’s community and stakeholder relations Manager.4 guthrie had previously demonstrated interest in the use of theatre to support flood risk communications, by arranging for a touring production of Look Left Look right theatre company’s play The Caravan (2008) to visit a number of flood-threatened neighbourhoods.5 this 30-minute drama was based on edited transcriptions of interviews with people still living in temporary caravan accommodation a year on from the nationwide floods of 2007. performed in the claustrophobic surroundings of a mobile caravan, to just eight audience members at a time, the caravan created a vivid sense of the constricted living circumstances that can result from flooding.

 ‘reflecting on environmental change through site-Based performance’ (principal investigator, stephen Bottoms).2 A network of scholars and artists with theatre/performance expertise; also geographers and activists.

 ‘Learning to Live with Water: Flood histories, environmental change, remembrance and resilience’ (principal investigator, Lindsey Mcewen).3 A network rooted in geography and narrative studies that explored the nature of flood archives

the project was funded by the AHrc under their ‘care for the Future’ theme heading, and initially ran for 12 months from February 2012 to january 2013. subsequent follow-up funding facilitated an additional four months of consolidation and evaluation activity from April-july 2013.

guthrie was interested to see whether such experientiallybased performance could be tailored directly to specific places and communities. As he observed, generic public information transfer strategies (e.g. tV campaigns) have had limited impact because national messages do not register at local level. conversely, however, local campaigns sometimes run up against ‘a disconnection that people have from their local environment – they just aren’t aware of the water around them.’ this problem of disconnect, guthrie suggested, can be particularly pronounced in urban areas, because of relatively transient populations and a lack of awareness of natural features within the built environment.

Look Left Look Right's The Caravan (2008). Photo kindly supplied by the company.



See project website at Summary account in heddon, d., and Mackey, S. (2012) ‘environmentalism, performance and applications: uncertainties and emancipations’. Research in Drama Education, 17 (2). pp. 163-192




an edited transcription of guthrie’s address is online at


See account at


(page 5) See also the eSrc flood Memories project, which has explored the relationships between flood memory, lay knowledges and the development of resilience in different flood risk settings in the aftermath of the July 207 floods on the lower Severn, uK. the knowledge exchange element of this project is exploring the use of digital storytelling as a medium for messages about preparedness between flood risk communities (Mcewen et al., 2012; See aso: Mcewen, l. J., Krause, K., Jones, o. and garde-hansen, J. (2012) ‘Sustainable flood memories, informal knowledges and the development of community resilience to future flood risk.’ in d. Proverbs, S. Mambretti, c. a. brebbia and d. de Wrachien (eds.) Flood Recovery, Innovation and Response III. Wit Press, ashurst, uK. pp253-264.

1.2 reseArcH QuestIons guthrie’s challenge can be summarised in terms of the following research questions: Can site-based performance and storytelling be used to raise river awareness among urban populations perceived as ‘hard to reach’? Can creative engagement with communities help to inculcate ‘a watery sense of place’ in urban contexts where local memory of previous flood incidents is limited? the terminology in this second question is drawn from the work of the ‘Learning to Live with Water’ network, whose research had looked at some of the ways in which regularly flood-affected communities narrate and perform their sense of being integrally connected to river landscapes.6 Hence the term, ‘a watery sense of place’. research on flood memories indicates that affected communities often have positive, even festive recollections of flood events, as well as the more predictable, negative associations.7 could the arts be used to harness such a festive spirit, in the interests of enhancing community preparedness? Members of the two networks developed plans for a collaborative, interdisciplinary project that would use applied performance strategies to create sited flood ‘memories’ before the event rather than after - the project was thus initially titled Before the Flood. However, to avoid raising unnecessary alarm, the title was amended to Multi-Story Water when public engagement activities began.

1.3 DIstrIButeD responsIBILIty the need for such experimental research is underlined by the fact that ‘distributed responsibility’ for flood risk management has been enshrined in statute by the Flood and Water Management Act (2010). that is, responsibility is distributed not only among national and local government organisations, but also communities, businesses, and home-owners. community awareness of, and preparedness for, flood risk is thus more critical than ever. the environment Agency itself is undergoing a process of institutional change in light of these shifting circumstances. the place-based, interactive engagement explored by the MsW project, and encouraged by Michael guthrie, is to some extent at odds with established agency discourse around flood risk communications - as summarised in a recent eA document titled Flood Risk: Understanding and Communicating with our Customers (2012).8 this document insistently refers to members of the public as the eA’s ‘customers’ or ‘audiences’, and while such language may be appropriate for the marketing of products, it is perhaps less appropriate to situations where

pro-active engagement is being required of those addressed. that is, the principle of ‘distributed responsibility’ demands that homeowners and businesses take action of their own to develop flood resilience. Analysis of the Flood Risk document suggests that communications strategies within the eA are still predominantly perceived in one-way terms: the agencyprovides information and services that ‘need to be pushed’ (p.5). In this model, the general public are regarded more as consumers of scientific advice than as active and empowered citizens. the MsW project was thus conceived in part as a contribution towards developing a more collaborative, two-way approach to community engagement around flood awareness.9

1.4 pLAce AttAcHMent AnD rIsK? the eA’s Flood Risk document also argues that ‘communications strategy will need to overcome emotional barriers to responding to flood risk e.g. place attachment’ (p.11). that is, risk communication is assumed to be more difficult if local watercourses are ‘seen as a positive local feature – and not as a hazard’ (p.6). there is, however, no evidence to suggest that inculcating public fear and apprehension towards rivers will improve flood resilience.10 It is clear, moreover, that an attraction to place is a key factor in the decision-making processes of many people who choose to live near water (waterside properties tend to have a price premium on them for this very reason). Ignoring these factors, and treating risk as a concept isolated from everyday experience, is likely to be counter-productive. ‘the reality is,’ guthrie notes, ‘that in order to get better engagement around flood risk, we have to be much more local about it.’11 the MsW project thus operated from the hypothesis that emotional attachment to place might in fact be a key asset in developing risk awareness. If attention to one’s surroundings can be further heightened through creative re-framing, and a ‘watery sense of place’ (a sense of river and flood heritage) instilled in local imaginations, might this not encourage a more deliberative thinking through of both the benefits and threats that derive from such proximity? or put another way: might creative engagement act as an enticement for people to walk themselves to the eA information stall, rather than that information needing to be ‘pushed’ at them?


See for instance Mcewen, l.J., Jones, o. and robertson, i (2014) ‘”a glorious time?” Some reflections on flooding in the Somerset levels.’ Geographical Journal, forthcoming.


Prepared by consultants blue Marble, this document provides a digest of communication strategies and associated social science research over the previous decade.


Major recent research in this direction includes the ‘environmental competency group’ (ecg) approach developed by Whatmore et al, 2007-09. See S.J. Whatmore and c. landström (2011), ‘flood apprentices: an exercise in making things public.’ economy and Society 40: 1-29. however, this model was predicated on ongoing discussions with local participants for whom flooding was already a matter of personal concern. our own project aimed at conversations with less obviously ‘committed’ members of the public.


See bradford et al, ‘risk Perception’ (2012): ‘findings of this study indicate that worry is not the central link between awareness and preparedness. although fear arousal is often advocated in order to increase risk perception, these results show that communications that evoke fear in vulnerable communities may not promote the desired response’ (p.2305).


Statement made during project advisory group meeting, october 2012.


2.1 eAstVILLe

In order to be able to compare and contrast outcomes from different site contexts, the MsW project simultaneously conducted two distinct case studies. Both locations were suggested to the project by eA staff, according to the following criteria:

the eastville area of Bristol marks a kind of transitional zone between the highly urbanised landscape of the inner city and the greener, suburban areas to the north. Here the river Frome flows west alongside allotments and the local park before turning south towards the city centre. It runs between the gardens of homes on Heath road and cottrell road, where homeowners have riparian responsibilities.

 these were areas in which the eA was aware of needing to do more flood risk communication work, and flood risk groups were perceived as ‘hard to reach’;

 they were, at the same time, not top priority areas; it was important that this experimental project should not risk ‘treading on the toes’ of existing eA-led initiatives.

 these were areas where the primary flood risk is fluvial (from the river) rather than from surface water or groundwater.

thereafter the river becomes heavily canalised, running in a concrete channel underneath the M32 motorway (which now acts as a physical barrier between communities), before arriving at eAmaintained sluice gates. Here the river flows into culverts that take it towards its intersection with the river Avon. the northern stormwater Interceptor tunnel, designed to divert floodwater away from the city centre and straight out to the Avon estuary, has its mouth at this installation. At this southern extreme of eastville area, a small number of terraced homes on napier road back onto the river, but are masked from it by high foliage. residential fluvial flood risk in the eastville area is limited to a few streets running parallel with the river Frome – with homes falling within both Flood Zone 3 and Flood Zone 2 on eA flood risk mapping.12 these patches of residential housing give the impression of being ‘leftovers’, having survived the planning upheaval of recent decades that resulted in both the building of a noisy, elevated motorway, and the erection on the flood plain of large retail outlets (tesco and IKeA). Importantly, the last incidence of extreme flooding in eastville occurred in july 1968, so flood risk groups do not have recent experience of flooding.

The Frome, IKEA, and Napier Road, Eastville.

The River Frome, canalised underneath the M32 in Eastville.


flood zone 3 (dark blue on flood maps) represents a ‘high probability’ of flood risk, i.e. ‘1 in 100 or greater annual probability of river flooding (>1%)’. flood zone 2 (light blue on flood maps) represents low to medium probability, i.e. ‘between a 1 in 100 and 1 in 1,000 annual probability of river flooding (1% – 0.1%)’. definitions from

2.2 sHIpLey Issues of social disconnect are perhaps still more prevalent in shipley, and across a somewhat larger geographical area. since 1974, shipley has been part of the city of Bradford, but prior to that it was an independent town. It sits at a junction of waterways. Bradford Beck flows into the main river Aire here, after flowing through Bradford itself. the Leeds-Liverpool canal runs in parallel with the main river down the Aire Valley, and was once met in shipley by the Bradford canal (parallel with the Beck). Formerly a heavily industrialised area, full of mills and factories, shipley is now characterised by a combination of retail developments, new-build flats, vacant brownfield sites, and preserved industrial heritage. the model Victorian mill village of saltaire, in the heart of shipley ward, is a unesco-designated World Heritage site. the main areas of residential flood risk in the area lie on the north bank of the Aire, in council housing estates built in the 1950s. Homes in these areas are separated from the river by a grassy flood plain, and those at flood risk are mostly judged to be in Zone 2 (low to medium probability). there are however a number of properties in Zone 3 (higher risk), including the former mill cottages at Lower Holme, and the complex of new-build apartments at Victoria Mills (immediately south of the river). the last extreme flooding in this area was in october 2000, so many local residents retain clear memories of these events. the last major flood prior to that, however, was back in 1947.

The Leeds to Liverpool Canal at Shipley Wharf.

Environment Agency map of central Shipley showing Flood zones 2 and 3.

3.0 INITIAL SCOPING RESEARCH (METHODS) the project’s strategy for initiating community engagement in the case study areas operated in two, complementary modes, which followed the extensive/intensive model of social research. the extensive approach involved undertaking a general audit of community organisations and networks in the case study areas. this enabled us to develop general understanding of social demographics in the area, to map wider support systems, and to establish potentially valuable contacts for the subsequent phase of creative engagement. the intensive approach involved identifying households within or immediately proximal to areas of fluvial flood-risk – using eA flood risk maps as a guide. these homes were approached via introductory leafleting and subsequent door-knocking. short, survey-style interviews were conducted on doorsteps in order to gather initial data about the area, to assess levels of river/flood risk awareness, and to initiate conversations (see flow diagram). Where residents proved particularly responsive, we arranged to return for follow-up interviews, in order to build relationships and to gather detailed memories/narratives that could inform the arts process. It should be noted that the use of flood maps to select households for inclusion in the doorstep surveys was necessarily artificial. Homes were ruled in or out on the basis of demarcation lines not necessarily recognised by residents themselves. to allay potential concerns over this, the project also adopted various, more informal means of brokering conversations with local people. In shipley, for example, we initiated a practice of chatting with people who were out walking their dogs on the riverside flood plain areas.



indicate part of a national research project – give flier with details/links

ask about knowledge of River (Frome) first

then (particularly in no engagement re Frome) broader experience of water (incl. cultural differences); use figure later to aid discussion

Stories about the Frome (or other rivers?) (your place; your stories); (if yes, note down willingness to share stories; speak to a volunteer)

Stories about rivers (your place; your stories) (if yes, note down willingness to share stories).

Any memories proffered of floods of 2000 or 1968? Photographs? Know anyone who remembers floods of 1968; gauge if any awareness of flood risk

broader questions about engagement with neighbours/membership of community groups/networks/ that support resilience (incl. floods). Include whether have children at school involved in project

prepared to get involved in community event (street activities/arts/ performance) around experiences of water/living with water

4.0 FINDINGS OF SCOPING RESEARCH In some respects, our audit and survey findings confirmed the eA’s understanding that the riverside areas in both eastville and shipley were populated by relatively ‘hard to reach’ communities. In both areas, community engagement specialists commented specifically on the surprising lack of established networks within the neighbourhoods that were door-knocked. cold calling produced a relatively low response rate of around one in five households responding/opening the door, even after repeat canvassing of the same streets. In shipley for example, we gathered 52 survey responses from around 250 homes door-knocked (ca. 20%).

4.1 LongeVIty oF resIDence In other, key respects, however, our findings challenged the eA’s assumption that urban communities tend to be more transient and disengaged than rural communities.13 the populations in both areas tended towards the older age of the spectrum, apparently because those living near water like doing so and have little incentive to move away. Indeed, we met several people in their nineties, who had lived locally for many decades. (of course, older people are perhaps more likely to have time to respond to doorstep surveys, but the ‘ageing population’ profile was also corroborated by independent evidence.14). In eastville, anecdotal evidence suggested that when homes with gardens backing onto the river Frome come up for sale, they are often bought up by people living on the other side of the same street (i.e. without their own river access). In shipley, on the former council housing estates surveyed, many residents had bought the homes they previously rented.

4.2 posItIVe engAgeMent WItH pLAce AnD rIVer enVIronMents there were distinct patterns of response to the doorstep surveys, which are particularly clear from the evidence gathered in shipley, where the questionnaires used 1-5 ‘intensifier’ scales to gauge responses to key questions. (In eastville, engagement specialists streets Alive chose to use more informal approach methods, but their findings were similar.) Asked how the felt about their local area, 4 out of 5 shipley residents surveyed indicated a clear liking for it (opting for 4 or 5 on the scale), with fully 50% claiming to ‘really love it’ (5). Much the same pattern was apparent when respondents were asked to gauge their consciousness of the local river: 50% indicated that they are ‘very aware of it’ or ‘think about it a lot’ (i.e. 5 on the scale), and a further 30% opted for ‘4’. the close correlation of responses to these two questions is striking, particularly when compared with much more mixed responses to the question of (for example) whether there is a ‘good sense of community’ in the area. Verbal responses in both case study areas also persistently confirmed that it was the river and other aspects of the natural environment locally (e.g. green space including parks and woods; nature spotting along the river) that residents took particular pride and interest in.

one side-effect of this ageing population profile was that, again in both case study areas, many respondents still did not have internet access, and provided us with telephone numbers rather than email addresses. this ongoing ‘digital divide’ underlined the importance of direct contact with residents in the areas surveyed. Bradford Beck, Shipley.

The weir at Saltaire, Shipley.


the ea’s flood risk communications document of 2012 (see 1.3 above) reductively characterises rural communities as ‘tight-knit’ and ‘pro-active’, while indicating that ‘less cohesive’ urban communities are merely ‘reactive’ when flooded, ‘looking for someone to blame’ (pp.15-16).


in Shipley for instance, titus Salt high School lies directly adjacent to one of the riverside housing areas surveyed, but a postcode search using their student database identified only 27 of their pupils living in the 250+ properties being researched. this confirmed our impression that the area is populated mainly by older people whose children have already left home (and by some families with younger children, more recently moved in).

4.3 Access AnD VIsIBILIty

4.4 AttItuDes to rIsK

the sense of engagement with the river expressed by many respondents in our case study areas appeared to relate closely to questions of access and visibility. In eastville, for example, those residents of cottrell road and Heath road who owned gardens backing onto the river tended to have a much stronger sense of connection with it than those living across the road from them on the same streets (though flood maps suggest similar levels of risk to both). similarly, those living at the southern, canalised end of the eastville catchment were less aware of, or engaged with, the largely obscured river than those at the more ‘natural’, northern end.

In shipley, it was notable that only a relatively small proportion of the surveyed sample (one third or less) considered themselves to be at any personal flood risk. there may be a degree of complacency at work here, but respondents’ perceptions of risk mapped quite closely onto the evidence of the eA’s own flood mapping – which suggests that most at-risk residential properties in shipley fall within Flood Zone 2 (i.e. the chance of flooding in any given year is as low as ‘1 in 1000’). conversely, those who do perceive themselves to be at risk are often very diligent about monitoring this. In the words of one resident of Lower Holme (affected by flooding in 2000): ‘It’s kind of instinctive to me now, if we’ve had days of heavy rain. I’ll say, “I won’t be long, I’ll just go and check the river”. . . you can never be complacent when you live in a place like this.’

A similar pattern was apparent in shipley. Among the more striking findings of our questionnaire research was that, while almost every respondent stated that they regularly used one of the local footbridges across the Aire, only around half claimed to use the road bridge. yet Baildon Bridge, the only road bridge in the area, provides a vital road link to shipley, Bradford and Leeds for all those we interviewed on the north side of the river. the questionnaire responses thus suggest a pronounced lack of awareness that the road crosses the river at this point (since the road stays flat, and there is no obvious river signage). these findings underline a simple but important point: the more visible the river, the more conscious residents are of its presence. even those aware of a river’s presence in more obscured areas tended to be less positive about it, since – in both case study sites – the environmental condition of more hidden stretches tended to be more degraded (polluted; canalised in brick or concrete).

The Environment Agency's Jody Armitage addresses river walkers in Eastville.

The M32 flyover as it crosses the River Frome in Eastville.

4.5 AttItuDes toWArDs tHe enVIronMent Agency In both case study areas, we encountered a generally distrustful view of the environment Agency. In eastville, for example, we found lingering anger about what was perceived (rightly or wrongly) as a mis-classification of the area’s flood risk designation, which had resulted in higher home insurance premiums. residents who recalled the last major flooding incident in the area (in 1968) felt that the eA’s modelling did not accurately reflect the facts of where water was likely to flow to. In shipley, similar doubts were expressed about the eA’s automated flood warning service. Many residents received such phone calls in june 2012, during our research period, but anecdotal evidence suggests that most chose to ignore the advice offered, believing (correctly, as it turned out) that the river would not rise high enough to come near their homes. these findings again underline the need for improved public communication strategies, in order to develop mutually beneficial, two-way exchanges between scientific expertise and local, situated knowledge.


5.2 VIsuALIsIng connectIVIty (spAtIAL)

the findings from our initial scoping research, outlined above, suggested two key factors common to both case study areas:

It should be noted that work on the project also prompted us to question our initial plan of working with and through existing community groups. this traditional ‘applied arts’ model involves working with pre-determined groupings of people who share a particular locality and/or social identity, yet the rivers in both case study areas cut through various different neighbourhoods, with varying socio-economic profiles. this begged the question of how we might begin to map a sense of social and ecological connectivity extending beyond established groupings.

 a pronounced but variable sense of connection with the local river, strongest among longer-term residents.

 a relative lack of community cohesion (some informal networks between neighbours, but little formal organisation), which prevents personal concern about the environment from translating into shared, public acknowledgement or ‘stewardship’. Based on these initial findings, the Multi-Story Water project sought to develop creative strategies through which to deliver co-produced, community-based interventions which might spark further engagement and collaborative learning.

5.1 pArtIcIpAtIon central to our approach was the principle that the project should create contexts in which local voices could be heard and different perspectives exchanged. our initial intention was to develop artistic responses with community participants, through a developmental workshop process. In the event, however, this method proved impractical owing to timescale. A series of meetings and workshops were held in both case study areas to develop dialogues and ideas, but given that we were working effectively ‘from scratch’ (due to the lack of existing community organisations in target areas, through which to work), our practical engagement period of only 6 months proved too short to develop a full, co-working relationship. 15

Moreover, given our findings about ‘access and visibility’ (see 4.3), we sought to render to the river’s trajectory more visible in those locations where it has been obscured by industrial and/or residential privatisation. We achieved this both –

 literally – by creating mobile performances that led participants to parts of the river that they were less familiar with, or did not normally have access to (see 6.2 and 7.2).

 by proxy – using spectacle-based approaches to highlight the nearby presence of obscured rivers (see 6.4 and 8.2).

the project thus evolved into an artist-led initiative. yet the outcomes were still co-produced, in the sense that they evolved directly in response to the ideas and stories of local contributors. Moreover, our creative outcomes were carefully shaped in order to establish ‘live’ contexts for two-way exchange, in which local people could collaborate or participate rather than simply being passive spectators.

Richard Galloway with audience on riverside path, Shipley.


although MSW was funded as a 12-month project, the start date of March 2012 gave us only 6 months before our planned outdoor performance outcomes in September (any later in the year and it would be too cold and dark for such activities).

5.3 VIsuALIsIng enVIronMentAL cHAnge (teMporAL) During the project, we found that the concept of historical change in the local area was a powerful lure for engaging local interest. sequences of historic maps (blown up large in size so that they could be pored over and compared) proved a valuable stimulus for conversations about change within living memory. In both sites, moreover, we found that residents were keen to lend or donate items that bore testament to local history – e.g. photographs of the physical and human impact of past floods, or demolished landmarks. these were exhibited at engagement events and on our project websites. several of our creative interventions built directly on this urge to visualise the pasts and even futures of familiar places (see, for example, 6.3 and 7.2).16 We sought, that is, to counter the habitual tendency to see our everyday surroundings simply as a fixed backdrop, a ‘given’, and to highlight the ways in which environmental change occurs – whether temporarily, as with flooding, or more permanently, as with the construction of buildings or roads. Among the key resources in this dramatization of change over time were the memories of older residents, retold and re-imagined.

5.4 sensItIVIty to context since an emphasis on the distinctive features and histories of particular places was central to our approach, there could be no ‘one size fits all’ method for our creative interventions. Indeed, attentiveness to place demanded that we pay heed not just to rivers and flood histories, but to the broader ecology of people’s concerns about their areas. In eastville, for example, respondents tended to be very animated about the noise, pollution and traffic congestion caused by the M32 - an elevated motorway built across the neighbourhood in the late 1960s. By contrast, the river Frome tended to be described in almost pastoral terms (at least in its more upstream areas) as a ‘natural’ counterpoint to this concrete despoliation. thus, responding to these circumstances, our creative interventions sought to explore and complicate this perceived distinction between built and natural environments.

Stiltwakers at the Eastville dance promenade.


See also Mike Pearson, Site-Specific Performance (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010).

Actor David Smith on the Higher Coach Road flood plain, Shipley.

6.0 EVENTS IN EASTVILLE Bristol is famous for its ‘can do’ ethos of collective collaboration on festive and creative outdoor events: the so-called ‘Brizzle spirit’ makes it, for example, the ‘street party capital of the uK’. While our project timescale prevented fully developed co-working (see 7.1), we found we were able to tap into these aspects of the city’s culture in order to facilitate a range of river-focused activities, in collaboration with members of the community. As a city counsellor who attended our ‘movie night’ event (6.3) noted, it was unusual to see such activities taking place this far north of the city’s central areas.

6.1 rIVer-tHeMeD street FestIVItIes In eastville, our street-level engagement process was developed by streets Alive, an organisation that specialises in catalysing street parties as a means of encouraging greater social cohesion.17 scoping research had established that cottrell road (where the largest number of flood-threatened homes in this area are located) had had a tradition of street parties in the past, and residents proved responsive to the practice being revived, using a self-sustaining approach recommended by streets Alive’s Alison crowther. A street party was scheduled for early september, as part of the run-up to our MsW ‘performance weekend’ later in the month (see below). the main communal activities took place in the street itself (food, games, etc.), and this permitted an unusual degree of social mixing among the street’s residents, who are now very diverse in terms of age and background. this mode of informal ‘resilience building’ was further enhanced by emphasising ‘a watery sense of place’: several residents on west side of the road opened their back gardens to visitors, thereby creating temporary access to the river for neighbours from the other side of the road. In one garden, the owner dug out earth steps to provide safe access down to the water’s edge, enabling children to paddle, fish with nets, etc. Meanwhile, Alison crowther staffed a street stall featuring local history items and eA flood information, which prompted much informal discussion.

Storyteller Martin Maudsley, with audience in an Eastville back garden.



6.2 rIVer WALK (‘storIes AnD scIence’) this event kicked off the project’s climactic ‘performance weekend’ (september 29th-30th), which had been advertised locally via postering, internet and word of mouth). In a creative twist on the traditional guided river walk, mobile storytelling was used as a vehicle for tracing the Frome’s trajectory through sometimes challenging terrain, in order to render its progress more visible. the walking route began at the downstream end of the eastville catchment area, at the eA’s sluice gates (with an assembly point in the IKeA car park). We then worked our way upstream, via obscured concrete canal sections and a private back garden before eventually arriving at eastville park. this movement towards the more pleasant surroundings of the park enabled an upbeat sense of narrative progress. professional storyteller Martin Maudsley, who led the walk, improvised an ongoing tale of fantastic river creatures journeying upstream, all based on suggestions from the crowd of over forty participants. the river walk also provided a public platform for two ‘science’ speakers from the environment Agency, who were introduced by Maudsley. At the downstream end of the journey, Laurie neale’s explanation of the function of the eA sluice gates and the northern stormwater Interceptor tunnel prompted lively discussion. At eastville park, jody Armitage spoke about the Frome’s biodiversity, and particularly about eels, whom the eA assist in their journey upstream from the sea by installing riverbed panels (these enable eels to navigate artificial obstructions). the river walk context enabled the eA staff to provide a positive sense of the range of the agency’s responsibilities.

6.3 sIte-specIFIc FILM screenIng one of the unanticipated outcomes of the community engagement process in eastville was the identification of a number of local filmmakers, from enthusiastic amateurs to full professionals. responding to this discovery, arts facilitator jess Allen programmed an evening of short films, each one documenting aspects of the river Frome or local eastville history. some were decades old, from local film clubs, others much more recent. Most of the filmmakers were themselves in attendance, and gave ‘live’ introductions to their films which helped to personalise and contextualise them. presented on the saturday evening of the MsW performance weekend, this ‘movie night’ was staged underneath the M32 motorway, on a spot just overlooking the river. this choice of location not only animated a normally ‘dead’ concrete space, but also lent the films an eerily site-specific dimension. For example, while viewing 1960s footage of the house fronts along stapleton road (before the motorway was built, they simply faced onto eastville park), one could also see the same houses where they still stand, just to the left of our viewing location. such temporal layering of past and present gave some of the films an almost ghostly quality – highlighting the way that places can change over time.

The Environment Agency's Laurie Neale explains Eastville sluice gates (River Walk).

Film night under the M32.

6.4 DAnce proMenADe the climactic event of the eastville performance weekend was a large-scale promenade performance, titled Flow, staged on the afternoon of sunday 30 september. this utilised a long sweep of the vacant stretch of concrete beneath the motorway, parallel with stapleton road. the idea of ‘reclaiming’ this litter-strewn void had been suggested by local residents, and in order to animate the unforgiving space, we chose a spectacle-based approach using dance and circus skills. the decision to use it as an event space also meant that Bristol city council agreed to remove two tonnes of rubbish from the site – a legacy beneficial to all. the promenade sought to use the all-too-visible motorway to highlight the presence of the much less visible and accessible river Frome. In effect, this concrete river was temporarily recast as a watery one, with performers and audience ‘flowing’ towards a finale overlooking the actual river. Here, a colourful mural of river wildlife had been painted onto the dull concrete pillars by local street artists. (these still-extant visuals are another lasting legacy of the project.)

Rainbows performing in Eastville.

Arts facilitator jess Allen succeeded in identifying and engaging a wide range of local dance groups of varying ages and expertise to contribute dance sequences, each themed around the fluidity of water (a connection further enhanced by the various blues in the groups’ costuming). the local gasworks choir, and members of Bristol’s Invisible circus, also participated. the different groups’ various contributions were independently rehearsed, and then placed within an encompassing performance structure that responded to the concrete architecture. this ‘portmanteau’ approach enabled strong local involvement without people needing to commit to an extensive rehearsal process on top of their usual commitments. the fluid movement of dance sequences was structured to create a sense of progression – both in the sense of leading the audience towards the river, and in the sense of a gradual progression in technical capability among the dancers. thus the promenade began with presentations from the pre-school children of the local Beavers and rainbows groups, and climaxed with a sequence performed by trained aerial dancers (as ‘kingfishers’), on rigging suspended from the motorway. the overall progression of the piece, however, avoided any sense of crude distinction between ‘amateur’ and ‘professional’, and instead suggested a sense of continuum (or flow) that was clearly appreciated by the large crowd of spectators. the promenade was accompanied throughout by a soundtrack (broadcast from a mobile pA cart) that mixed music with edited vignettes about the river and locality, drawn from recorded interviews with local residents.

Aerial dancers on M32 painted motorway pillars.

Dance Promenade below M32.

7.0 EVENTS IN SHIPLEY In shipley, unlike eastville, we found no existing history or tradition of collective activity in riverside areas for us to tap into. (Instead, people tended to defer to the high-achieving ‘bubble’ of saltaire village as ‘the place where that sort of thing happens’). During our engagement attempts, residents spoke of a need for greater community cohesion and resilience, but generally felt that they did not have the wherewithal to take a lead themselves. Instead, we were encouraged to ‘lead from the front’. With this in mind, we focused on delivering a few activities as effectively as possible.

7.1 tArgeteD street InterVentIons Although it proved difficult to encourage self-generated activity such as the eastville street party, we instead facilitated a festive engagement event for the Higher coach road estate (where the largest concentration of at-risk homes in the area is located). one elderly resident’s memory of children playing by the river in the 1950s, on a sandy bank where the base of a footbridge now stands, prompted us to theme this as a ‘beach party’ – with a bouncy castle, fish and chip van, childrens’ craft activities, and temporarily erected beach huts as a focus for conversation about the area’s history and future. (the ‘sandy bank’ story itself attracted a surprising degree of interested discussion.) some huts housed representatives from the eA, Bradford council, and Aire rivers trust. Another, painted on the outside with a map of the green flood plain area between river and houses, presented an opportunity for residents to draw or paint on their ideas for how it might be redeveloped (this arose from survey responses that had argued for a community garden or a wetland nature reserve area, rather than just the dull monoculture of often-sodden grass). yet another hut exhibited

maps, resourced from West yorkshire Archive service, which showed alternative, unrealised plans for the estate’s layout which were far less environmentally sympathetic than what was eventually built (‘what might have been’). At the other, eastern end of the shipley catchment, dialogues with residents of Lower Holme had revealed deep disquiet about proposed plans for building commercial property on the derelict flood plain area next to their houses. since we had established contact with the developer during our research, we facilitated a meeting between him and the residents at the local pub, during which they were able to put their concerns to him (many of which he was immediately able to reassure them on). this has subsequently led to an ongoing series of ‘pub summits’. While not directly flood-related, these street interventions followed a principle articulated by professor Baz Kershaw, one of our advisory group members: ‘the slightly unexpected (even if it’s a planned unexpectedness) can open up channels of communication that wouldn’t otherwise occur, because in one way or another it breaks the mould of people’s expectations.’18

Higher Coach Road: community proposals for riverside green space.

Alex Fullelove and David Smith lead audience along Green Route.


comments voiced during the project’s advisory group meeting of october 2012.

7.2 MoBILe, sIte-specIFIc tHeAtre In shipley, the storytelling river walk approach, also used in eastville, was developed to another level. the major creative outcome of the MsW project in this location was a three-part ‘theatrical tour’ – consisting of two walks and a canal boat ride. this choice arose in part from the difficulties encountered in finding volunteer participants: we chose instead to use professional performers to develop a theatre piece that would draw directly on the narratives and local knowledge gathered during interviews with residents. It was hoped that, by reflecting back their own concerns and experiences in carefully shaped, dramatic form, local people would be encouraged to see themselves and their environment in a fresh, and perhaps more ‘resilient’ light. Green Route journeyed west on foot along the Aire from saltaire’s roberts park, and through the Higher coach road housing estate, finishing at Hirst Weir. Blue Route picked boat passengers up from Hirst Lock (near the conclusion of green route) and journeyed east to central shipley, alighting at shipley Wharf. Red Route began on the towpath at shipley Wharf, then wove its way back to the Aire through the town’s post-industrial areas, and east along the river to site of Lower Holme mill.

Children's activities at Higher Coach Road event.

these interlocking performances could be undertaken in single cycle (an ‘epic’ lasting almost four hours), or participants could opt to sign up for individual sections at times that suited. We cycled the whole performance five times over the course of a weekend in september 2012. (It was subsequently revived, with some modification, for another five cycles in july 2013.) A children’s version of the canal ride, Junior blue, was also created to cater for interest from families (operating on the return route from shipley Wharf to Hirst Lock). the two walking routes, devised by steve Bottoms with director simon Brewis, involved three actors, each playing multiple roles.19 their characters were all based on people living in the shipley area, with their words drawn verbatim from edited interview transcripts (this material was also connected up by ‘narration’ sections in which the actors played themselves). Although scripted, the performances left plenty of scope for spectators to chat to each other and the actors while walking between the various, staged stopping points. the connecting Blue Route canal boat ride was looser in structure. Functioning as a kind of seated intermission between the walks (tea was served), the focus was on conviviality. steve Bottoms hosted and provided informal narration, while local musician eddie Lawler led participants in a series of ‘singalong’ numbers including both traditional canal shanties and his own original compositions.

Actors and audience at Loadpit Beck (Green Route).

Actor Richard Galloway overlooks the River Aire at Saltaire (Green Route).


the actors were richard galloway, lynsey Jones and david Smith (September 2012); Paul fox, lynsey Jones and rob Pickavance (July 2013).

the theme of flooding functioned as a kind of persistent ‘bass-line’ for the tour, particularly on the river walks. At various stopping points, the actors would voice vivid descriptions of the water levels reached during the last major flooding in the area, in 2000, and the difficulties it caused. spectators were thus encouraged to ‘see’ the extent of the flooding in their mind’s eye, in contrast to the water level on the day of the performance. As in eastville, however, it seemed important to locate the question of flooding within a wider ecology of local concerns about the river and canal. our project title, Multi-Story Water, had proved unexpectedly appropriate in shipley, because of the range of other issues voiced to us during our research, including for example:

these threads and others were woven into the overall tapestry, with the underlying connections revolving around the theme of environmental change. this thematic was also apparent in the changing physical textures experienced on the journeys (walking on grass, tarmac, cobbles, broken footpath; stepping onto a boat, etc.20), and in the changing time-frames referenced by the different characters (from memories of World War II to invocations of the last ice age). We even managed to relate local circumstances to the global question of climate change – demonstrating that playful speculation on possible futures, in relation to factual pasts, can be a valuable stimulus to imagination and dialogue.

 awareness of improvements in the Aire’s water quality and biodiversity following the closure of local industries (but with attendant social costs)  the river and canal’s centrality to a strong local sense of industrial and social heritage

 heated debate over plans to install a hydro-electric power generator on the weir in roberts park (i.e. within the World Heritage site)

 issues around plans for redevelopment of waterside brownfield sites (former mills), and the associated impacts on existing residents

Steve Bottoms and audience, inside the Angus Ferguson (Blue Route).

Actors Lynsey Jones and David Smith (Red Route).

The Angus Ferguson community boat, Blue Route.


these changing textures were commented on by a number of participants on the tours, even though performers did not draw explicit attention to them. cf. Sarah Pink, doing Sensory ethnography (Sage, 2009).

8.0 FOLLOW-UP INITIATIVES Following the main activities of the project in 2012, a fourmonth period of follow-on activities ensued during 2013.

 consolidate and evaluate previous work within the eastville and shipley contexts, in order to avoid any perception of the 2012 project being mere ‘flash and dash.’

 extend learning from the project and create lasting ‘legacy’ materials.

In Eastville, these activities focused in particular around film and video. the locally sourced films that we screened in 2012 had prompted numerous requests from local residents about whether copies could be made available. similarly, there were requests for copies of the audio narratives broadcast during the dance promenade. In response to these calls, we regathered these materials and sought permission for their further dissemination. the audio river narratives were re-edited and backed visually with archive photographic stills, to create a series of ‘digital story’ shorts. these were then made available on request, along with the collected films, on two specially prepared DVDs. to highlight this initiative, we also presented a further public screening event at glenfrome primary school, titled More Films from the River Bank (june 2013).

In Shipley, the very positive public response to our 3-part theatrical tour of the area prompted us to revise and remount these performances for a further weekend in july 2013. In addition, we initiated a collaboration with Kirkgate community centre - a third sector organisation tasked with community development in the shipley area. Kirkgate had taken particular interest in our work in the Higher coach road estate area, and this was followed up collaboratively in further discussions with members of that community. Kirkgate’s premises were also used for an event titled shipley river Day (also july), which featured a guided river walk and information fete (featuring representatives from the eA, Bradford council, yorkshire Wildlife trust, etc.). the DVD accompanying this report publication features selected film outcomes from both case study contexts, developed during this 2013 follow-up period. these include:

 Frome Voices, by eastville filmmaker jez toogood.

 Mervyn’s Marvellous Memories – an example of the ‘digital story’ format.

 Wading to Shipley – which renders visible an obscured stretch of Bradford Beck.

 City of Rivers – documenting an eA river stewardship ‘think tank’.

For full rationale, please consult the DVD’s ‘Introduction’.

Alison Crowther (right) engages the public in Eastville.

Shipley river walk, July 2013.

9.0 ENGAGEMENT WITH SCHOOLS early in the development of the MsW project, a decision was taken to route some of our funding towards working with and through glenfrome primary school, an eco- and forest school in the heart of the eastville area, standing very close to the Frome. Although we did not attempt a comparable experiment in shipley in 2012, one of the elements of our follow-on research in 2013 involved the application of methods developed in eastville in two Bradford primary schools. the objective on this occasion was to integrate the teaching element with creative work towards a large scale, flood-themed performance in the city centre.

9.1 BrIstoL our work with glenfrome primary school can be summarised as operating on two fronts:  engaging children with cross-curricular work around river awareness , by partnering with arts-in-education specialists from rIo (real Ideas organisation).

 collaborating with the school in engaging the local community, by using its premises as a location for events, and its communication network to reach out to parents.

It should be noted that the environment Agency has attempted engagement with primary schools in the past, but as Michael guthrie stressed to us, this took the form of ‘general environmental education’ rather than a locally sited approach. the advantage of thinking locally is that children’s learning about abstract concepts such as the water cycle can be applied and instantiated by examining features of the children’s own familiar landscapes. science, history, literacy and performing arts can all be woven together to develop understandings of, and responses to, the river environment. (such cross-curricular learning is, at present, more feasible to deliver in primary school contexts than in the more stratified and pre-determined secondary school curriculum.)

A teacher’s ‘toolbox’ has been prepared by rIo to document and communicate the specifics of the education work developed at glenfrome.21 Here we would simply underline the advantages of integrating this work within the wider MsW project:

 it established communication with a full cross-section of people living in the area (crossing lines of class, ethnicity, etc.), and further enhanced community engagement with the project.

 conversely, resources gathered through the wider engagement programme became valuable stimuli for the work with children. this ranged from old maps and photographs of the area, to memories of older residents collected through the interview process (creating valuable connectivity across inter-generational lines).

 the use of the school as a context for project events seemed to permit and encourage a certain ‘child-like’ playfulness among adults. An initial arts engagement event in june 2012, for example, was attended by 25-30 participants of various ethnic backgrounds, ranging in age from 4 to over 80. Activities centred around the collaborative creation of largescale, 3D map-collages of the river, which adults became as enthusiastically involved with making as the children. It was important, however, to avoid the perception that the MsW project as a whole was simply an ‘education project’. the schools work followed on from door-to-door engagement (rather than vice versa), and our main curricular engagement took place during the autumn term as a follow-up to the project’s outdoor community events in september. (some of the initial children’s work was represented at the film screening under the M32, in the form of short videos of children performing choreographed movement to their own river poems.)

From Glenfrome's 'flood risk' postcard project.

Glenfrome children's riverside art.


downloadable at:

9.2 BrADForD positive responses to our shipley performances in 2012 prompted tony poole, the chief Drainage engineer at Bradford city council (with responsibility for the city’s flood planning), to invite us to create a performance for Bradford’s new Mirror pool, as part of the opening ceremony for the eu-funded Flood resiliencity conference (Frc), in May 2013. the Mirror pool is a recreational area in the heart of the city, and is used daily by children (weather permitting) as a kind of giant paddling pool, so it seemed appropriate to involve schools in developing a site-responsive performance. engagement with year 5 pupils at crossley Hall and st. james’ primary schools involved cross-curricular topic work based around tributary rivers local to the schools. then, following the example of the eastville dance promenade (6.4), we worked with choreographer Lucy Hind to develop a spectacle-based performance with the children, titled Blue Mirror.22 As in eastville, the artificially engineered performance space was treated as a visual proxy for a natural feature – since Bradford Beck flows invisibly through the city centre in underground culverts. We mapped out the Bradford Beck catchment in microcosm, with the ‘bowl’ of the Mirror pool becoming the ‘bowl’ of Bradford’s surrounding hills, and lines of children tracing the trajectory and intersections of its various tributary rivers.

taking advantage of the Mirror pool’s public address system, Blue Mirror featured an ongoing script narrated by three children. Based on creative work in class, we told the tale of ‘Brad Beck’ being imprisoned by ‘the evil Queen of concrete’ and her minions, ‘the sewage goblins’ (terms fondly invoked during the subsequent Frc conference proceedings). the performance concluded with a tableaux-based presentation of key flood risk messages. As tony poole later noted in a letter of thanks: ‘I commented to the regional Flood risk Manager of the environment Agency that the messages given out by the children could not have been done any better by the Agency. In fact I doubted whether they would have managed the clarity and simplicity that you achieved.’ 23

Children from Crossley Hall Primary School tracing the flow of Chellow Dean Beck.

Bradford's Mirror Pool, with children central and Town Hall behind.

Blue Mirror, in performance.


full script and documentation available online at


full letter posted online at the url above.

10. EVALUATING IMPACT reviewing the MsW project outcomes, a number of questions arise around how best to assess and value its impacts locally. the project attracted strongly positive responses and feedback from members of the public in both case study areas. However, much of the ‘evidence’ for this is informal and anecdotal, since we chose to avoid asking for feedback in the form of measurable data. this is because asking direct questions about people’s responses to creative participation can be awkward for all involved (‘how much did you like our play?’), and rarely produces reliable results.

10.1 eAstVILLe numerical attendance at the climactic eastville ‘performance weekend’ is one good indicator of engagement. over 40 members of the pubic participated in the storyteller-led river walk, while around 70 attended the sub-M32 film screening event. An estimated 270 people attended the concluding dance promenade. these numbers suggest that the gradually snowballing engagement process over preceding weeks and

Concluding 'kingfisher' dance, Eastville dance promenade.

months (including street party, online photo competition, school-based events, etc.) had gathered genuine public interest. However, the various events appeared to attract somewhat different audiences, suggesting that people chose selectively what to attend. An information event, or ‘river fair’, held at the primary school on the saturday afternoon of the performance weekend, featured representatives from the eA, Bristol council, etc., and enabled one-to-one engagement with agency participants for those who sought this follow-up. this event was somewhat thinly attended by comparison with the others, however: the festive, creative events were clearly more successful in attracting public interest. tellingly though, the information stall positioned at all the events was well trafficked (with people marking the location of their houses on a large, laminated map). It appears that, once people had made the decision to attend, many also engaged actively with the underlying subject matter. Verbal feedback after the events was very positive, and the numerous requests we received to circulate copies of the local films and audio narratives (see section 9) was a further indication of engagement.

10.2 sHIpLey

10.3 MeAsures oF success?

circumstances in shipley had dictated a narrower focus of activities, and the numbers accommodated in the performances were necessarily smaller. We took 20-30 people on each cycle of the performance tours, and cycled these 5 times over the weekend. yet the care invested in making this work paid off in the form of very positive public reactions. Following both the september and july iterations of the performances, a surprising number of people (most of them previously unknown to us) responded to a programme note inviting emailed responses – writing as long as a week later to express their appreciation. Full feedback is collated on our website,24 but the following quotes give a flavour of the responses:

Measuring the value and efficacy of such arts interventions is especially difficult in the context of a project initially focused on flood awareness. the eA would normally assess the success of communications activity according to take-up for their five ‘key messages’ (or ‘calls for action’), but this is hard for even the eA to gauge accurately. the actions suggested include, for instance:

‘A brilliant show. I really enjoyed every minute. Great actors. Great content. So interesting and moving.’ ‘What a terrific experience! I felt the whole thing was really well crafted and acted; I was engaged throughout.’ ‘it was one of the best dramatic performances we have ever seen. It was deeply and accurately researched; it involved and valued real people, built community, did not duck big issues, and it was fun . . . Thank you for an extraordinary and uplifting experience.’ It should be noted that these publicly advertised performances attracted a mix of audiences, including residents from the targeted areas and also a wider public from the surrounding vicinity. For some of the residents attending, the experience proved very significant: ‘it gave me my fight back’, reported one woman from Lower Holme, who has for years campaigned against systemic neglect of this ‘unadopted road’. other residents chose not to attend, perhaps because they felt theatre was not a medium for them. yet the attention that the project paid to residents’ pride in their sense of place (through both our performances and the ‘beach party’ event) seems to have been greeted positively even among non-attenders. As was noted in an evaluation interview by Martin Bijl, park keeper at roberts park (which lies between riverside estate areas), ‘the undercurrent is there that it marked a spot, it hit a spot. I think it started a process, which needed another way in than just “come to a public meeting.”‘

 signing up for flood warning telephone alerts. yet following the pitt report of 2008, many residents in at-risk areas have been opted onto this service by default, making public engagement with the service hard to measure.

 preparing personal and/or community flood plans (pFps, cFps). guidelines for these are offered by eA literature and website, but take-up is hard to gauge unless people volunteer to inform the eA that they are opting to respond to the guidance.

given all these difficulties of measurement, we make no particular claims here that the MsW project resulted in direct behaviour change among residents (in terms of preparing flood plans etc.). However, thinking in such causal, instrumental terms may be the wrong way to look at the question. As recent scholarship on applied arts has emphasised, while the direct effects of engagement with the arts are difficult to isolate or measure, the real value of such interventions lies in the realm of affect – in the felt experience of pleasure, empathy, new insights, etc. 25

Higher Coach Road 'history hut' (Shipley).

Actor David Smith (left) with audience on 'Green Route', Shipley.


See and


See for example James thompson, Performance affects: applied theatre and the end of effect (basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).

10.4 VALuIng conteMpLAtIVe responses

In eastville, similarly, the project seems to have prompted a newly heightened awareness of water in the environment. Indeed, some members of the community asked us informally if we had scheduled public events for days when the eA had forecast there would be high water in the Frome (a technical impossibility!).

the research literature on behaviour change (for example, overcoming addiction) has long emphasised that action does not necessarily follow directly from information provision (‘smoking is bad for you’). rather, as in the much-cited ‘transtheoretical model’ developed by james prochaska et al, the decision to take personal action is seen as following on from stages of contemplation of one’s circumstances, and then preparation for change.26

Longititudinal evaluation, in the form of informal conversations with residents the year after the main project events, also indicated that – in both sites – there were clear and lasting memories of the experiences involved. this extended, for example, to detailed recollection of stories recounted in relation to particular sites/locations. such responses indicate that the juxtaposition of familiar places with unexpected narratives or events can be particularly memorable and affecting.

We would argue that the value of creative interventions, of the sort described in this report, lies in their propensity to prompt contemplation among participants. . specifically, the MsW project seems to have encouraged a kind of perceptual shift for some participants, whereby everyday places and spaces were seen with fresh eyes. Among the emailed feedback on the shipley performances, for example, were a striking number of comments such as these:

the development of such heightened perceptual/emotional awareness of everyday surroundings is perhaps valuable whether or not people eventually choose to take direct flood prevention action. that is, the prior awareness that ‘this is a place that can and will flood’ is likely to play a significant role in developing emotional or mental resilience to extreme events, if and when they occur.

‘It taught me things I didn’t know about the area I’ve lived in 30+ years!’ ‘I have lived in Shipley since 1971, but it showed me things and told me things I didn’t know.’ ‘We have lived in Shipley and Lower Baildon for 19 of the last 30 years . . . but were surprised by the amount we learned about our locality.’ this recurring sense of surprise probably stems from the performance’s reorientation of local perception around the journey of the river, rather than around more familiar road journeys:

the arts-based approach described here may be particularly important in that the feelings and memories it inculcated were primarily positive ones, rather than negative ones associated with worry and fear. As teun teupstra notes, there has been too little research to date on the positive values of ‘community and social activities’ in promoting risk awareness: ‘positive emotions contribute to the ability to cope with stress and negative life experiences because they stimulate thought and increase the number of perceived coping behaviors, thereby adding to one’s physical, intellectual, social, and psychological resources.’28

‘It certainly raised my awareness of water around us and I have often thought about our local river and the flood areas during this week of almost constant rain!’

Viewing a film about the M32, underneath the M32 (Eastville).


See for example changing for good, by J.o. Prochaska, J.c. norcross, c.c. diclemente, cc (new york: William Morrow, 1994).


teupstra (2011), ‘emotions, trust, and Perceived risk: affective and cognitive routes to flood Preparedness behavior.’ risk analysis, 31,10, 1658-1675 (citations from p.1659).)

11.0 CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS ‘More is currently known about the extremely complex and uncertain nature of the hydrometeorology of floods and its technical aspects than about people’s behaviour.’ 29 the MsW project represents one modest attempt to understand and engage with people living in fluvial flood-risk areas. our initial research had demonstrated that levels of river and flood awareness in the case study areas were generally greater than the eA had assumed. the longevity of experience among many residents suggested a good basic level of underlying resilience. this manifested itself in, for example, residents’ apparent ability to make informed choices about whether or not to respond to flood warning calls. However, one should not underestimate the attendant risks of complacency, or the fact that some residents (particularly newer ones) may be less aware of the issues. the arts dimensions of the project demonstrated the value of rendering people’s underlying river awareness more visible/public, both as a means of celebrating community identity and sense of place, and as a means of focusing attention for those perhaps less conscious of the issues. participants in the project’s various activities persistently emphasised to us their appreciation of:

11.2 FunDIng partly because of the difficulties in presenting ‘hard’ evidence for the efficacy of arts-based approaches of this sort, we do not propose that the environment Agency or other Lead Local Flood Authorities should direct their own scarce resources towards further iterations of the MsW project. nevertheless, we believe there is strong potential for further partnership-based working, whereby eA staff provide input and expertise, working alongside schools, universities, community groups and/or independent arts organisations. such partnerships can bring into play other funding possibilities (e.g. Arts council, Lottery funds, community development funds). the use of skilled voluntary labour (e.g. student participation, perhaps for course credit) can also help to reduce costs. It is worth noting that many universities are currently seeking to prioritise ‘social responsibility’ agendas, and that the working model presented in this report could be readily adapted to suit coursework teaching contexts in various arts and social science disciplines (e.g. geography students develop scoping/survey research; drama students develop creative responses in partnership with local organisations).

 the sense of dialogue/conversation pursued by the project; that ordinary people were ‘being listened to’ rather than just talked at;

 the local focus of the work, which facilitated a sense of pride in place and attention to details of heritage and environment.

11.1 repLIcABILIty since the MsW project was predicated throughout on sensitivity to the specifics of site and context, we would counsel against any inference that there is a ‘template’ here that could simply be ‘rolled out’ elsewhere. However, the basic principles and approach outlined here are readily adaptable in other contexts:  Initial scoping research -- including door to door survey work to capture the perspectives of those at-risk residents who might not be represented through existing community organisations (including the elderly).

Eastville river walk.

 Development of creative process with community members, towards site-specific outcomes. the exact context and the length of the development period will determine the extent to which these outcomes need to be ‘artist led’ or can be more fully co-produced.

 the creative principles and examples of practice outlined in sections 5-7 of this report offer a portfolio of options that can be selected from and adapted according to context. clearly, processes like this need to be conducted by a combination of partners with expertise in areas including community engagement, applied or site-specific arts practice, etc.

Richard Galloway, 'Red Route' (Shipley).


d.u. Keogh et al (2011), ‘resilience, vulnerability and adaptive capacity of an inland rural town prone to flooding: a climate change adaptation case study of charleville, Queensland, australia.’ natural hazards 59:699-723 (citation from p.701).)

11.3 BLenDIng LocAL AnD 11.4 toWArDs rIVer proFessIonAL expertIse steWArDsHIp one of the advantages of such sited community research being led by collaborating partners other than the eA itself is that this can create an independent middle ground on which a variety of contributors can meet and share their perspectives. this helps to overcome any local suspicion towards government agencies and their traditionally ‘top-down’ knowledge dissemination models. Very importantly, it can also result in the sharing of local, lay knowledge that may be of value to the eA itself (for example, information on where water has – and has not – flowed to during previous periods of extreme weather). this principle of mixing the professional and the local can also be important in creative work. the eA’s Michael guthrie, to whose initial challenge the MsW project sought to respond, emphasised this point in his own enthusiastic response to the events of our eastville performance weekend (most of which he attended). referring to the dance promenade, he noted that ‘the mix of very local artists with the more professional finale was something that I feel gives a good steer to how we can use lessons for the future. the river walk, too, had lots of local input, but it also had a professional storyteller and eA experts to bring the event together. the whole mix over the weekend of local knowledge with expert interpretation is for me the biggest lesson that we can take and attempt to apply within the eA. there were lots of positive comments afterwards, and lots of people coming to see us to ask further questions, which really showed how valuable a project this was.’ 25

As has been noted, the project title Multi-Story Water was initially chosen in the hope that it would seem more inviting to participation than a title foregrounding flooding as a single, central issue. We asked respondents about their own memories and concerns, in relation to their local waterways, as a means to initiate conversations. During the course of the project, however, it became apparent that this avoidance of ‘single issue’ engagement was one of its most important features. the ‘multi-story’ approach enabled us to map out a whole, inter-connected ecology of local concerns around rivers (water quality, biodiversity, sustainable energy, planning, leisure, access, etc.). our approach chimed closely (if at first inadvertently) with the ‘river stewardship’ approaches being pioneered nationally by colleagues in the environment Agency’s yorkshire and north east areas. jonathan Moxon, a member of the eA’s national innovations team, who became an advisor to the project in shipley, is a particular advocate of this approach. He argues that long-term flood resilience is more likely to result from partnership-building on a range of issues than from focusing exclusively on flood risk messaging. riparian owners, businesses, community groups, etc., all have their own concerns with respect to rivers, and the development of better networking between them can be mutually beneficial in terms of delivering practical outcomes – developing resilience to a range of stresses including flooding. the eA’s support for the development of the sheffield-based social enterprise, the river stewardship company, is a prime example of this approach.26 (see City of Rivers film, on attached DVD.) the experience of the MsW project leads us to believe that the arts may have a significant role to play in engaging communities around multiple water issues – by exploring a diverse range of stories and perspectives, in innovative, locally-responsive formats. this approach can entice people into a renewed appreciation of their water environment – and the benefits and risks it presents. Further research in this direction, with a wider range of academic and professional partners, will be undertaken by the new, AHrcfunded consortium project, ‘towards hydro-citizenship’, running for three years from 2014-17.28 this large-scale initiative extends in part from the findings of the one-year MsW project. the four uK case study areas again include Bristol and Bradford – in order to build further on existing relationships and research knowledge.

New Mill, Saltaire (Shipley).


email correspondence from Michael guthrie, September 2012.




Project website at

Stephen Bottoms

Eddie Lawler

Michael Guthrie

Jess Allen and Lindsey McEwen

Martin harris centre for Music & drama School of arts, languages and cultures the university of Manchester oxford road Manchester M13 9Pt united Kingdom for enquiries or further information, contact: Professor Stephen bottoms email:

Profile for Martin Harris Centre

Drama multi story water report  

Sited Performance in Urban River Communities 2012-2013

Drama multi story water report  

Sited Performance in Urban River Communities 2012-2013


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