Guardian article: project “impact”?

I was interviewed this week for this article in The Guardian which appeared on Wednesday.

The piece arose as a result of a first press release going out about the new “Towards Hydro-Citizenship” project which is to run from March this year for 36 months. Funded by the AHRC, this a large, inter-disciplinary project involving a consortium of co-investigators, under the ‘Connected Communities’ funding theme. (Further informational blurb follows after the next paragraph, for anyone interested..)

In a sense, the Hydro-Citizenship project can be seen to extend, on a larger and longer scale, the Multi-Story Water project (2012-13), which was in turn a follow-on from the network project that this blog-site was originally set up to support. So the ball keeps rolling … and interestingly, it was the question of (dis)connection between local and global environmental awareness – which was the question animating the network itself – that Guardian journalist Oliver Balch picked up on from our phone conversation, and quoted me about (or, I think more accurately, attributed a quote to me that was sort of the gist of something I said at more length…). What I was not expecting was the emphasis he places on corporate sustainability messaging… It turns out Oliver writes for the Business pages, and when he asked me about what message I’d have for businesses I was a bit stumped at first. It also seems to have thrown Sara Penrhyn Jones – one of my colleagues on the project – who left a comment below the article on the Guardian site somewhat distancing herself from its direction. I have some sympathy with her point about (to put it crudely) artists not whoring themselves out to corporate interests… But at the same time, I wonder if it’s not also important to explore and pursue dialogue with whoever wants to talk to us. One thing I’ve learned from Platform is that talking to the people that some of might easily dismiss as ‘the bad guys’ (bankers, oil corporations, etc.) is as important as shouting from outside the gates. And on a smaller scale, when I overcame my own initial hesitations and contacted the property developer who had bought the abandoned riverside mill site at Lower Holme in Shipley (during the Multi-Story Water project), he turned out to be a very likeable, reasonable man who was more than willing to meet the residents and listen to their concerns… You never know what can arise from being part of a conversation.


Towards Hydro-Citizenship: (from the press release…)

As the project’s title suggests, its focus is researching within, and working with, a range of communities to address intersecting social and environmental challenges through an application of arts and humanities approaches (including performance and film making, history and heritage, interactive mapping, etc.). The environmental focus is on interconnected water issues, which include such issues as flood risk, drought risk, supply and waste system security, access to water as an amenity and social (health) benefit, waterside planning issues, and water-based biodiversity/landscape assets. Given recent, extreme storm surge and flooding incidents in the UK, as well as other pressing water issues, this research is particularly timely.

The research will involve reviews of current work being undertaken elsewhere in a range of disciplines and international contexts and also 4 large scale case studies of community-water issues. These case studies will be in Bristol, Lee Valley (London), Borth and Tal-y-bont (Mid Wales), and Shipley (Bradford). Each case study will be conducted by a local team working with artists, community activists, and selected community partners ranging from small community groups to larger organisations charged with aspects of regeneration and community resilience. There will also be exchange and comparative research conducted between the case study sites.

The seeds of the project were sown at a three-day AHRC research development workshop, held in May 2012, on the theme of Communities, Cultures, Environments and Sustainability. The workshop aim was to stimulate the development of innovative proposals for transformative, cross-disciplinary, community-engaged research with the potential to make a significant contribution to the ways diverse communities respond to the challenges posed by environmental change, support the transition of communities towards more sustainable ways of living and cultivate the development of sustainable environments, places and spaces in which community life can flourish. The workshop sought to foster cross-disciplinary and collaborative approaches by bringing together researchers from a wide range of disciplines and other experts from policy and practice communities. A key theme was the potential to engage with diverse cultural communities in all stages of the research.

The Primary Investigator is Dr. Owain Jones, at the University of Gloucestershire’s Countryside and Communities Research Institute (CCRI).

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