Thames21 is the voice for London's waterways. Every year, the charity mobilises over 9,000 volunteers to help transform neglected and littered waterways into areas that everyone can use. Last month, we had a great time getting stuck in the mud at one of their clean up sessions by Mudlark Pier, North Greenwich.
But there are many strings to Thames21's bow. Not only do they organise clean-ups in various watery London locations, they also run a range of community-focused projects. Whether it is a river, canal, lake, stream or pond, they work to hand London's waterways back to the public. In addition, they pass on their knowledge, allowing anyone to make a difference to their local waterway.
The Thames21 Training Programme was developed as a way to improve the sustainability of their work, by empowering and equipping volunteers to take ownership of protecting their stretch of London's waterways. The charity provides two days of training which show volunteers how to plan a clean-up, make them aware of the health and safety bits and bobs and give them the confidence to lead a team at at event.
We spoke to Chris Bridge, a young professional who joined the programme:
How and why did you get involved with Thames21?
I got involved initially because in 2009 my New Year's resolution was to do some volunteering. My best mate George took me to the Thames21 event by Shad Thames. It was really cold - it started to snow in fact! I also got involved specifically with Thames21 because I used to cox. I love being on the water. It's my little way of looking after the river even though I don't cox anymore. There are other factors like I enjoy being outside and close to nature. I like knowing that what I'm doing is a positive thing for my local environment. I also work for an oil company and it's my way of balancing the karma if you know what I mean!
My friend Ben also started at the same clean up in Shad Thames. We go regularly, and it's nice to have made new friends who have the same interest. Thames21 introduced the training programme for regular volunteers to do their own clean-ups. Ben and I are, I think, the only ones who do it on a 'private' level in the sense that we aren't affiliated to public bodies or groups. It really didn't take us long - we had two Sundays of all-day courses and other half-days for specific topics like invasive species. It's not difficult at all and it was more fun than I thought!
What have you learnt about the river that you didn’t know before?
The volume of water that comes in and out of the Thames is amazing. Also, I learned how much flora and fauna flourishes in the Thames. It's been fun for me to help the kids learn more about the invertebrates in the water.
What takes place on a typical river clean-up session?
All the river clean-ups first start with the Health & Safety talk. We couldn't stress that enough! For a great clean-up the best ingredients are people working as a team and everyone making it fun.
What are your best river finds?
I got an old nine inch nail which I reckon would have been used to make ships on the river. I also found this odd figurine of a baby. It's slightly creepy but I'm sure that someone loved it before. I've also picked up a few ceramic pipes. There are quite a lot of them on the foreshore in Central London and apparently you can date them from the different designs on them.
Where is your favourite river spot in London?
My favourite river spot is Hammersmith Bridge. I cross it everyday to go to work and every day it's really different. The sunsets are really gorgeous. It's my physical and mental boundary for work and home.
If leading your own clean-up session sounds like a big ask then never fear - as well as providing training, Thames21 continue to help volunteers with bespoke support to help get their project off the ground. Please visit the Thames21 Training Programme website for more information and how to sign up. If you fancy trying out a clean-up session first (trust us, they are a lot of fun) then you can take a look at upcoming events via their events page.
A huge thanks to Chris Bridge for speaking to us about her Thames21 experience, for providing the photos, and for helping keep our capital's waterways clean and beautiful. If you're tempted to join in with an event then she recommends the Thames21 Cleaner Thames Challenge 2013, which is taking place this September.
Thames21 is our charity partner for the summer months and we’ll be bringing you further features on what they do and letting you know about opportunities to get involved yourself.