Nov 09

Emerging Cymerau Themes/Issues:
work in progress- comments welcome- alex plows 9.11.15

Our ongoing analysis is informed by the cross case study list of ten key coding themes[1] developed out of Hydrocitizenship full team meetings   and subsequent cross- case study team discussion, and which are a baseline start point for Nvivo coding of data and outputs across the four case studies. Emerging themes are surfacing in an ‘organic’ manner from early public consultation events, and in ‘real time’ as artists and community participants co –create artistic content and reflect publicly on the process.


While it is essential not to pre emptively predict core themes, or indeed  to reify rich cultural content, some observations on emerging themes can be made, noting that “geography matters”; the Cymerau case study is by far and away the most “rural” of the 4 Hydrocitizenship case study sites. It is the only one with a coastline. Water shapes the landscape and affects the flow of relationalities  across and within it, human and non-human.


1) “Hydrocitizenship from Above?”

 The Cymerau key villages of Borth and TalyBont are both high risk flood (sea and river) sites and as such are the focus of associated hydro governance in the form of shoreline management plans and river basin catchment and flood management strategies. The dynamics set in motion by those responsible for strategic policy (eg, sea defences to enable the “hold the line” policy at Borth), and how, why and in what circumstances these interface with communities/citizens/stakeholders, and indeed with the landscape itself, is of key thematic interest, and is being explored both through the choice of commissioned artists and the findings which are “bubbling up to the surface”, ie:

-“Reflecting on the way the beach has changed with the new stone groins and the effect of this on residents and visitors to Borth and the way they interact with the beach now”

(public feedback following Cymerau launch event, June 2015)


-“I wrote a song called Beach Works when the last batch of "coastal improvement" started, a couple of years ago, in Borth…”

(artist, Hydrocitizens community website, Summer 2015 )


In Talybont, which suffered major flooding in 2012, Natural Resources Wales (NRW) has worked with local residents:

Villagers forced to flee their homes in Ceredigion following torrential rain have put a flood plan to the test in an emergency exercise. Natural Resources Wales (NRW)…said it would work with the volunteers to identify areas where the flood plan could be strengthened…. (BBC news online 23.11.2013) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-mid-wales-25058075

It will be interesting to see how such “hydrocitizenship from above” is expressed, commented on, through the ongoing Cymerau artist/community projects over the coming year.


2) Immersion In the Waterscape: “Going with the Flow?”

A strong affinity to place is evident and there is rich expression of this emerging through the creative/participatory engagement processes. A tentative observation: Perhaps more than the other case study sites, here in this rural case study and living with environmental change (flood risk) in a very direct way, local communities  have more of a tendency to think about how they are being directly shaped by natural processes, than communities in the  three urban case studies. Indeed people here perhaps feel so “immersed” in their watery environment that this may well be a “taken for granted” norm; this public feedback comment following the launch event is one of several similar   comments which were made in feedback about the Hydrocitizenship/Cymerau project:

 Raising awareness of water is a good idea but Borth seems a strange place to do it, everyone who lives here is constantly aware of water, we could get washed away at any moment…”

(public feedback following Cymerau launch event, June 2015)


Key themes of “risk and resilience” are clearly relevant to this theme of  how people feel shaped by their “watery” landscape or waterscape; a sense of ‘going with the flow’, living with change, with the transmutability of landscape (the changing shoreline, erosion); many such reflections have already been recorded:

"people must be prepared to change and move on....nothing stays the same"

(local Borth resident in interview for “water, water everywhere” project,  artist Esther Tew: http://www.hydrocitizens.com/videos/2501306


This “going with the flow” is not a passive quality and co  exists with the ways in which different community members, stakeholders, seek to shape their “waterscape” and mediate or mitigate its (anticipated, actual) impacts and in what contexts; this relates back to the  Hydrocitizenship from above” theme.

[1] These are : 1. Power (includes: governance/ access & management/ dissent);2. Participation/ non-participation; 3. Displacement (physical, social, economic, cultural);  4. Edges/ boundaries; 5. Risk ; 6. Resilience; 7. Values; 8. Practice as praxis (this is about how the artistic process is developing /expressing key themes); 9. Relationships; 10. Metaphorical language  


Feb 20

On the radio this morning (16.02.16) I heard an announcement of a new category under the Britain-in-Bloom award for parks and gardens which have been affected by flooding this winter and have overcome adversity.  The idea is that the award ‘will celebrate the resilience of those who work to bring flood-hit community spaces back to life, as well as recognising the impact and challenges that communities potentially face’ (RHS, 05.02.2016).  Public parks and gardens are of course public assets and are managed for the common good of communities, often by the communities themselves but also by a legion of parks and gardens’ managers.  At Shipley we have been in discussion with the Parks Managers based at Robert’s Park about the Higher Coach Road River link which, along with Robert’s Park and various other spaces along the River Aire, was flooded in December (see http://multi-story-shipley.co.uk/).   


Ornamental water bodies are an essential component of many parks & gardens as this lily pond (left) Avigonon, France.  Many other parks are situated beside the water in river corridors, as in New York (right). 

This new category of award is an interesting one, because it uses the term ‘resilience’ in relation to those who work in the spaces, rather than the spaces themselves.  Many of the public parks and gardens situated along rivers are situated within the natural flood plain of the river.  So it is not really surprising that from time to time the areas are flooded.  The question is, how do we deal with this in the long term?  Particularly if the likelihood for many rivers is that we will see more flood events occurring.  Traditional flood meadows benefit hugely from annual flooding, gaining nutrients from the silt that is deposited.  Rivers also benefit from the scouring effect of big floods; silt and debris is carried away leaving the channels clearer which may also be beneficial for rowing clubs etc.  

Unfortunately much of what is deposited on the banks and floodplains these days is definitely undesirable.  On recent visits to rivers in Yorkshire and Northumberland the evidence of the flood height was very clear to me, not just because of the plant debris, but much nastier and more obvious, the plastic debris.  There are other things deposited which are even less desirable.  Some of the debris looks like artistic compositions of ‘found’ objects.  The sticks and compostable materials, like the silt, will break down and help to provide nutrients for the bankside vegetation, it may also provide nesting material for waterside birds and small mammals.  However when material like this is dumped by the floods in riverside parks, those working in parks and gardens face a considerable clean-up job (see for example Henry 2016), as well as a reconstruction job for damaged paths, fences, walls and fallen trees and eroded and unstable banks. 


After the flood: Debris at Upper Coach Road, Shipley (left) and Baildon Bridge (centre); Scoured Aire (right)

I wonder then, what a ‘resilient river park landscape’ could or should be and shouldn’t the Britain-in-Bloom assessment be considering the physical park as well as the resilience of the park-keepers?  Some riverside parks are very large and could perhaps be considered more clearly as holding areas for water in times of serious flood.  Some are already managed with this in mind.  But the pollution is a problem.  

The long term consideration is about adaptation to impacts, but it is not only the impact of flooding on parks and gardens which is of concern, but that the management and change in parks and gardens can exacerbate flooding.  It is well known that the increase in impermeable surfaces, particularly in urban areas through building development, is a problem because water runoff speeds increase and instead of seeping into the soil, water is gathered together and delivered into water courses.  While the use of SUDS (Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems) can help to alleviate this problem and more local authorities are demanding that this be taken into account in planning decisions, there is a creeping problem with the change of small areas in cities that are often 'unseen'.  In a study in Southampton in 2014, Jennifer Warhurst and the aptly named Katherine Parks and colleagues carried out a study of front gardens in urban areas.  Their findings indicated that these spaces have seen a change in land cover in terms of a shift from permeable (grass and other vegetation) to impermeable surfaces (tarmac and paving) for car parking  This amounts to an average of 22.47% of land area over a twenty year period.  In addition the required attenuation storage volumes have increased by 26.23% and the study suggests that there has been an increase in flood risk in known flooding hotspots and that the ‘consequence of the conversion of gardens to parking areas will be a potential increase in flooding frequency and severity — a situation which is likely to occur in urban locations worldwide’.


City impermeable surfaces: New York (left), Newcastle upon Tyne (right)

It would be good to hear of examples where, for example, Heritage Lottery and other funding has insisted on a SUDS-type approach as well as a resilient landscape approach to the renovation and restoration of riverside parks and garden landscapes.


Water-holding and water permeable landscapes: Borth Bog (left) and Allotments in Kirkbymoorside, Yorkshire (right)

With regard to the plastic debris evident on riversides, this is only a small part of a serious problem highlighted in the news this week (Michael Sleazak in The Guardian,18.02.16).  In a submission to a Senate Enquiry held in Australia the Boomerang Alliance cited a study from 2014 which estimated that seafood consumers in Europe eat up to 11,000 pieces of microplastic each year as a result of eating fish which have plastic particles in their guts.  Anyone (human and non-human species alike) who eats fish needs to consider the likely impact the accumulated effect microscopic particles of plastic might have on their health and welfare, as well as the unsightly nature of ‘plastic trees’ and impacts on other vegetation evident in river systems throughout the world such as the Aire.  On a more positive note, the plastic invasion has one potentially beneficial impact: at Shipley and other places along the River Aire it has encouraged communities to get out and clean up; to come together to address both an aesthetic blight and a health hazard and by doing so perhaps make connections and have conversations about water, rivers, landscapes and rubbish.


January 2016 After the flood in Shipley: Not all species are unhappy about a flood


Environment Agency (2013) Rivers by Design: Rethinking development and river restoration, A guide for planners, developers, architects and landscape architects on maximising the benefits of river restoration. Available at: http://www.ecrr.org/Portals/27/Publications/131223%20Rivers%20by%20Design.pdf [accessed 16.02.16]

European Centre for River Restoration (ECRR) Available at: http://www.ecrr.org/Publications/tabid/2624/mod/11083/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/3468/Rivers-by-Design.aspx [accessed 16.02.16]

Henry, E. (07.01.2016) ‘Post-flood cleanup to start at Plas Cadnant Hidden Gardens’, Horticulture Week.  Available at: http://www.hortweek.com/post-flood-cleanup-start-plas-cadnant-hidden-gardens/parks-and-gardens/article/1378605  [accessed 16.02.16]

London Climate Change Partnership (2009) Summary Report: Adapting to climate change: Creating natural resilience http://www.lbp.org.uk/downloads/Publications/Climate%20Change/Adapting%20to%20Climate%20Change%20-%20Creating%20Natural%20Resilience [accessed 16.02.16]

Mayes Brook Restoration Project (2008-12): http://www.ecrr.org/Portals/27/Mayes%20Brook%20case%20study.pdf [accessed 16.02.16]

River Wandle Restoration Project: https://www.hlf.org.uk/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/new-life-wandle [accessed 16.02.16]

RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) (05.02.2016) Awarding flood-hit communities: RHS Britain in Bloom judges will recognise communities that have overcome flooding.  Available at: https://www.rhs.org.uk/communities/community-blogs/community-gardeners/February-2016/new-britain-in-bloom-award [accessed 16.02.16]

Sleazak, M. (2016) Billions of bits of plastic waste threaten humans and wildlife, Australian senators told, The Guardian Thursday 18 Feb 2016, Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/feb/18/billions-of-bits-of-plastic-waste-threaten-humans-and-wildlife-senators-told [accessed 20.02.16]

Warhurst, J.R., Parks, K.E., McCulloch, L., and Hudson, M.D. (2014) ‘Front gardens to car parks: Changes in garden permeability and effects on flood regulation’, Science of the Total Environment 485–486 (2014) 329–339. Available at:  http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/364471/1/Warhurst%20et%20al%202014.pdf  [accessed 16.02.16]


Watershed Borth Community GardensFrom May 26th to 29th the Cymerau artists and community members showcased creative projects devised with and for people in the Borth and Tal-y-bont area in Ceredigion, mid Wales.

This included Beached: The Final Landing by Jane Lloyd-Francis and Gwilym Morus-Baird;  Water Surgery by Jess Allen; Y Gors by Dafydd Sills-Jones, Anne Marie Carty and Nick Jones; Edafedd-dwr by Ffion Jones; The Water Shed by residents of the Borth Community Allottments and Stories, Songs, Science and the Sea by Peter Stevenson, Erin Kavanagh and Lynne Denman.

The following is written conversation between two participants in these events. Tom Payne was involved in organising the Spring Gathering with other members of the local team. Katherine Jones is a former Aberystwyth resident and is a Towards Hydrocitizenship team member working on the Water City Bristol case study.

The Watershed

On Saturday, an open invitation was extended to members of the general public to visit the Borth Community Gardens. From Borth train station platform, which looks out onto Borth Bog, the gardens can be located by walking to the end of the platform and through a walkway gate. This is part of the coastal path walk, which curves inland a great way after Borth to get around the Dyfi estuary. It can be accessed from this direction by passing through the gate and down a lane, across the tracks and past a derelict looking barn with three small ponies moseying about next to it, and then towards the church and cemetery. Just before reaching these, is a slight right turn leading to the gates of the Borth Community Garden and allotments. Started five years ago by a group of people who got together, and were given a small piece of land by a local farmer for whom it was simply more grazing land for sheep (no shortage of that in Wales!), the community garden is the site of The Water Shed; a timber framed building designed using found and recycled materials, with the aim of providing a meeting/workshop space for community members.

Watershed Borth Community Gardens

Katherine:  We are greeted on arrival by Caspar and Anne, who offer us tea or coffee and tell us the story of the community gardens, while we munch some homemade pakoras brought by Anne (made with gram flour). The space is beautiful. Bunting adorns a gorgeous pond as damselflies alight on lilypads, an orchard of fruit trees is punctuated by a chicken enclosure with several plump and healthy-looking chickens, and the place feels full of warmth and buzzing with vibrance and life (or that might be the bees from the two hives also in the orchard!). The top of the gardens afford a beautiful view of the Dyfi estuary in the distance, while the peacefulness of the surrounding landscape of bog and sea soaks in.

Tom: The gardens are partitioned into small allotments. Some are growing seasonal vegetables, others are carefully manicured, while several look like re-wilding is taking place. Our conversation with residents reveals that nettles and thistles are very much a deliberate choice on the part of some community members. Woe betide anyone who tries to cut them down! We are told that within hours of receving permission to use the field for allotments, the first stake went in the ground, marking out one man’s territory. Many sheds are dotted around the various plots, each one is unique, and adds individuality and personality. In contrast to the individual plots, are the communal areas, the polytunnel, the fledgling orchard, the communal tool shed, which are all suggestive of amicable collaboration. Athough we’re told that it pays to be quick if you want save any of the apples from scrumping.

Katherine: The Watershed is the name of the project, and the building that the members of the community garden, led by Jono, a professional builder, are building. The timber frame is up and three men are clambering about on it, hammering in joints and joists (my building knowledge is being tested here). The building will not be connected to water and electricity, but will have solar panels on the roof, and will collect water running off the roof into a storage tank. The goal is to use the energy from the solar panels to pump the water to the top of the gardens. It will also serve as a small hub for the community garden, a space where people can stop for a cup of tea perhaps. Also in process is a pizza oven a little further up the slope, created in the shape of a pregnant woman. I’d like to visit again when it’s up and running!

Tom: The ‘pizza oven’ was salvaged from the Aberystwyth Arts Centre Ceramic Festival. Its former designation as kiln is a somewhat distant one, as it awaits restoration. And it is not the only evidence of such purposeful re-imagining. Salvaging and re-using are themes that stand out strongly in this place. The re-purposing of land, the re-location of sheds, the recycling of materials to build the Water Shed.

Watershed Borth Community Gardens

Katherine: After a wander around the site, observing the water tanks and taps, admiring the view, and talking about planting and plots, and the amazing transformation this piece of land has undergone in only five years, we return to the gazebo [is that what that tent thing is called?] where several people are painting the bottoms of clear glass jars, which will be embedded into the wall of the watershed, a kind of communal stained glass window. I ask if I can join in and Tom and I then sit and paint jars with several women. A man is sprawled out on a blanket with his two beloved dogs, and a couple of girls sit next to him coloring in books. Next to me is a young woman who tells me her partner has a plot in the allotments and so she comes along. Conversation meanders from the project, to the group of people who are involved, to what brought them together, and to Borth. It seems that there are a lot of artists in the area, attracted to the peace and quiet. And yet people come through from all over the place, there are always international connections. A friend who used to live there is now on an island somewhere off the coast of British Columbia doing organic farming. A couple from South Africa are about to come to stay in Caspar’s Airbnb.

Tom: I believe Owain has stayed there too.

Katherine: Painting the bottoms of jars feels therapeutic, and we talk about this a little. I am reminded of a recent book called Art as Therapy by Alain Du Botton. As we paint, conversation ebbs and flows without pressure, without rush. I remember reading a story in which someone said they had their most heart-to-heart conversations with their mother when they were shelling beans together, and this has a feeling like that. Naturally we talk about the Watershed project, but more so the community gardens, and Anne talks about some future project she wants to do next, using the groynes that are currently abandoned in a tip. She has chainsaw work to do but decides not to disturb the mellow peace of our activity. Several of them are going to ‘True Tales’ in the Friendship Inn in the evening, the last of the season apparently, and they encourage us to come along. These are activities that hold the group together.

Watershed Borth Community Gardens

Katherine: We talk a bit about the ‘water project’ as they call it. Cymerau or Towards Hydrocitizenship being a bit of a mouthful clearly. One person quotes another Borth-based friend as saysing ‘if one more person comes and tries to talk to me about climate change!’. I express a bit of surprise thinking most of the projects I’ve come across haven’t explicitly mentioned climate change, though obviously it wont’ only be our arts projects but many others as well, which have alighted on this strange and wonderful little place as being in the line of sea level rise. There seems to be an awareness of this among the people we talk to in any case. I mention that our project deliberately set out not to explicitly talk about climate change or flooding, but to allow people’s understandings of and relationships with water to emerge through conversation. And emerge they do. Now that we’re on the topic, people talk about their own relationships with the prospect of climate change affecting Borth. They note that some people don’t want to think about it and would rather put their fingers in their ears and go ‘la la la la’ than hear about it. Others feel a bit helpless and wonder what to do. And others do things like the community garden, building a sense of community, camaraderie and being in it together.

Katherine: I’ve been listening to a podcast interview with Rebecca Solnit, called Falling Together, in which she discusses people’s responses following disasters. The way that people spring up to help, opening their homes, providing food and shelter to those affected, donating blood, showing up and helping. This is something that is witnessed time and again, and a narrative that is often left out of the media. Solnit wonders about how this spirit is fostered at times when there is no disastrous event, and as I sit and paint the bottom of a glass jar, I think this is exactly the kind of way that it happens (or is brought about). These are the people who in a disaster will be there for each other. This is what some would call the building of ‘resilience’, and of ‘community’ and of ‘community resilience’.

As an afterthought, I wonder if this would all be happening without interventions like Cymerau, and I imagine it would. But Cymerau has given such things a boost, which seems the most appropriate intervention that a short duration project could be involved with. Rather than trying to re-invent the wheel, the project has come along as part of a flow of things and in a fluid way become a small part of existing activities and networks, potentially transforming, in a small way, the relationships within and between those networks... Perhaps in any case the transformation is about us and not 'communities'. In this space, Tom and I both reflect on how this project feels good and how we're glad to have been part of something like this, even in a small way. We are learning something, perhaps many things, from being present in such spaces, without trying too hard to frame or impose our own ideas and structures onto these interactions.

Watershed Borth Community Gardens


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