Our Stour was a three year, Heritage Lottery funded project focused on engaging local people in learning about, appreciating and improving the rivers of the Kentish Stour catchment.
Clarity Interpretation developed and planned the project and produced the HLF bid, in partnership with the Kentish Stour Countryside Partnership. The bid was successful and we delivered three of the six main programmes as well as general project co-ordination, promotion and evaluation. We also produced some of the main project outputs including interpretation panels and a printed guide.
The Stour Catchment
The Kentish Stour is the major river catchment of East Kent. It is an important river system, of great value to human and natural communities alike. It supplies water for homes and agriculture, provides drainage, recreation and wildlife habitat. Some of its rivers are chalk streams of global significance. Some flow through areas of international importance for conservation. Most pass through settlements; loved and celebrated in some places, flowing underground and forgotten in others. They are part of the history and folklore of this part of Kent and have powered industries in the past.
In an ideal world, all the rivers of the Stour Catchment would be shaped by natural processes, with good water quality and abundant wildlife. In a few places these conditions exist but for the most part, these rivers face many challenges: pollution, low flows due to the demand for water supply, invasive species and the legacy of structures left by old industry.
Despite these pressures, the Stour Catchment’s rivers are still great places for walking, recreation and wildlife watching. In many places they have tremendous beauty and natural diversity. They are homes for many well-loved and sometimes declining species.
Project development and HLF bid
Our Stour came into being in recognition of the need to engage local communities in the process of bringing the Stour Catchment’s rivers back into good condition. The East Kent Catchment Improvement Partnership started to develop ideas and we were brought in to work these up into a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).
The project began to take shape in the form of six programmes:
RIVER CONSERVATION TASKS
Local people getting hands on with conservation that made a real difference to river environments.
Trained River Wardens played an important role in improving local rivers, reporting problems and recording wildlife.
A mobile classroom for schools and community groups to use for river-based, educational activities.
LAND MANAGEMENT WORKSHOPS
Events to advise farmers and other land managers on how to protect rivers.
A programme of guided walks along rivers in the catchment, exploring history and wildlife. They were documented by a local vlogger, with footage and stills contributed by participants.
A community film-making project where young people and adults used film-making to explore issues surrounding rivers on their doorstep.
We worked together with the Kentish Stour Countryside Partnership on all the major elements of the bid: the activity plan, detailed briefs for the main programmes, plans for engagement and training, carrying out community consultation and gathering evidence of interest and support, drawing up a project management structure and a budget.
The bid was successful and Our Stour was launched with an event at Godmersham Park in September 2017.
We delivered the three year project alongside the Our Stour Officer, a new post created for the project, with KSCP’s Partnership Manager overseeing the project.
We were involved to some degree in all aspects of project delivery, but the main areas we worked on are summarised below:
ONLINE PRESENCE AND PROMOTION
- Created dedicated Our Stour section on the KSCP website.
- Set up and posted regularly to Our Stour Facebook.
- Set up YouTube channel (it now features 38 short films made during the project).
- Produced six editions of the Our Stour News e-newsletter.
SOURCING AND BRIEFING PROVIDERS
We helped to bring a range of specialists into the project to lead activities, including trainers, film-makers, a writer, a vlogger and an animation workshop provider.
Delivery Of River WALKS Programme
This was a varied programme of community events. Our aim was that participants enjoy and learn about the wildlife and heritage of the Stour catchment’s rivers through activities with a film-making or photography aspect.
We engaged with local community groups and the programme started with an activity for an Ashford-based charity for young people with learning difficulties and their families called ‘Includes Us 2’, documented by film-maker Jasper Bouverie. We then worked with Young Animators Club on a River Wildlife Animation Workshop for children, based at a riverside venue in a deprived ward of Ashford. Our most popular event was ‘Whitstable’s Hidden River’ (embedded above), a walk and film about the history of the Gorrell Stream, made in partnership with Whitstable Museum; the museum and some participants contributed stills and footage to the film.
Based on the success of this simple format of a walk that is filmed, with participants contributing stills and footage, we then provided a series of river walks, focusing on the wildlife and heritage of rivers all over the catchment, working with a vlogger called The Wild Native, who led the walks and made the films. We published a leaflet promoting these walks as well as promoting via Facebook and direct email to individuals and community groups. All completed films can be seen on the Kentish Stour Countryside Partnership YouTube channel.
Delivery Of Flowfilm Programme
FlowFilm was a river-based film-making project for young people and adults. It ran for two years, during the summer holidays of 2018 and 2019. People taking part had the opportunity to work alongside a professional film-maker on making short films, harnessing their creativity and learning skills such as storyboarding, shooting and editing. They learnt how to use professional software to make their film (length 1 to 3 minutes), during a short series of workshops, editing clips shot on phones and tablets and adding sound, music and titles. Films could be any style or theme but had to feature the River Stour in some way.
In 2018 we worked with a professional film-maker to develop a series of workshops for young people. These activities were promoted via schools and youth groups as well as social media. Attendees aged 10 to 15 learnt about story development, use of cameras, adding audio and editing using professional software; they shot the footage in their own time. We ran one workshop series in Canterbury, and one in Ashford, using local schools and colleges with IT suites as a base.
Our intention had always been for this programme to have an intergenerational aspect to it so our film-maker suggested working with a local writer to provide creative writing workshops for people over 65 who would produce writing that could be used as inspiration for young people’s films. These activities were called WordFlow and were promoted via direct email, posters and flyers at community centres and social media. We also ran FlowFilm workshops for adults and many of the people who had come to WordFlow also attended this workshop series and made films based on their own creative writing.
All completed films from this programme can be seen on the Kentish Stour Countryside Partnership YouTube channel.
Delivery Of Landowner Training Programme
This was a learning programme for farmers and other land managers. Our aim was to raise awareness of issues and encourage changes in land management and new activities to benefit rivers and riverine wildlife. One issue that came to the fore when we started to consult with partners and plan events was that of invasive non-native species (INNS) and in the end four out of the six events we delivered were on topics in this area.
We provide six events over the three years of the project. In year one we provided two events about mink monitoring and control in the Lower Stour. They were promoted via KSCPs existing lists of landowner contacts, with help from the River Stour Intenal Drainage Board. Events were attended by local farmers and fisheries managers.
We ran four activities between October 2019 and March 2020. Two of these events were on INNS, particularly plants, but also signal crayfish; we ran one event for the Upper Stour and one for the Lower Stour, tailoring the species covered accordingly. The most popular event was our final one, which covered water quality, abstraction and the predicted impacts of climate change.
Production of Interpretation Panels
Seventeen panels interpreting river environments at well-used riverside sites and crossing points. Content told the stories of rivers, highlighted their wildlife and heritage and explained issues affecting them. Participants’ images were used in designs. Volunteers participated in the production process through research and writing. Key tasks were:
- Liaison with community groups and partners requesting panels at their sites
- Desk study and research to look at other potential sites and topics
- Site visits to potential sites
- Liaison with landowners, permissions
- Research and writing, including volunteer involvement
- Image research and sourcing (some purchase of images)
- Design, consultation, revisions and final approval of drafts
- Proofing and manufacture
- Liaison with site owners for installation
- Carry out installation
Production of leaflet
A printed leaflet that is an enjoyable and engaging learning resource for local people and visitors to the area. It explores the issues Our Stour was intended to address – the importance of rivers, our relationship with the water environment, key species, water quality, the role of land management. The design featured participant images and a large map of the catchment, with summaries of the rivers and information on access, recreation and wildlife. Key tasks were:
- Discussions and consultation on aims, topics, audience
- Research and writing
- Image research and sourcing
- Design, consultation, revisions and final approval of drafts
- Proofing and printing
Monitoring and evaluation
- Defined quantitative and qualitative targets and indicators
- Recorded data on various monitoring spreadsheets
- Designed and implemented feedback questionnaires for various activities
- Recorded volunteer activity
- Recorded ecological data
- Recorded unsolicited comments and feedback
- Documented activities photographically
- Formatively evaluated programmes during the project to improve them
- Produced various updates and reports, including a formal progress report for HLF
- Carried out summative interviews with participants
- Produced an overall project feedback questionnaire for our summative event