Multi-story Water

Project funder: UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC

Lead organisation:  Professor Steve Bottoms, University of Manchester

Project duration: 18 months (until end of August 2013)

Project team / collaborators

Professor Lindsey McEwen, UWE, Bristol

Project aims

  • To apply the critical/creative thinking of two recent AHRC networks in the development of a performance research project that responds to needs voiced by the Environment Agency (EA) for public engagement around flood risk awareness in ‘hard-to-reach’ urban groups.
  • To further develop an interdisciplinary collaboration between the Performance Footprint network (‘Reflecting on Environmental Change through Site-Based Performance’) and the Living Flood Histories network (‘Learning to Live with Water: Flood Histories, Environmental Change, Remembrance and Resilience’), thereby extending dialogues between theatre/performance specialists, cultural and physical geographers (including those with expertise in flood risk management).
  • To further the investigation of mutual concerns including: the potential value of situated narratives within flood-threatened areas, for building local awareness and resilience; the development of creative and storytelling modes that materialise and focus attention on the functions and unpredictability of water in inhabited environments.
  • To develop creative responses to these sites by examining them through a number of contrasting frames or lenses: as ‘physical-geographic’ spaces (composed by particular land formations, water networks, types of flood risk etc.); as ‘heritage’ spaces (revealing architectural legacies and human histories of environmental impact); as ‘quotidian’ spaces (displaying the patterns of everyday inhabitation); etc.
  • To maximise public engagement with the two case study projects by working directly with local residents, as volunteer participants and performers, in a ‘bottom-up’ creative process that celebrates water/river/flood knowledge and memories of the areas’ histories and everyday dynamics. Through this process, to raise local awareness of both immediate, pragmatic issues (such as flood prevention measures; personal and community resilience planning), and of wider questions around human relationships with water in the landscape (e.g. the impact of urbanised landscapes on water quality, flow intensity).
  • To identify and work with other relevant stakeholder organisations in the selected sites, including: city councils (especially flood plan managers); local parish/community councils and residents’ associations or community fora; river advocacy groups; National Flood Forum. Where appropriate, to use performance as a means of ‘dramatising’ the issues around distributed responsibility for flood risk management and resilience to environmental change.
  • To link and cross-reference the two projects, as they develop, in order to identify strengths and opportunities, common difficulties, and effective methodological strategies for responding to them.
  • To develop from these experiences a set of guidelines for located practice that could potentially be applied in other contexts.
  • To disseminate these findings in both the academic community (through targeted conference presentations and journal articles) and beyond -- through the development of a summary report and action pack for stakeholders and potential future users.

Project summary

This research project involves a partnership between two networks from the 2010/11 AHRC ‘Researching Environmental change’ programme. The ‘Performance Footprint’ network brings expertise in using site-specific performance to promote awareness of environmental change in diverse settings. The ‘Living Flood Histories’ network has explored how situated flood narrative and memorialisation practices can bring new insights in how to engage public groups, at changing flood risk.

This 12 month project (extended now to 16 months) responds to an invitation from the Environment Agency (EA) to explore how situated performance and flood narratives might be used to engage urban floodplain groups, at risk from flooding but without recent flood experience. Can creative participation be employed as a means for: developing and enhancing ‘a watery sense of place’; exploring uncertainty around future climate scenarios; understanding issues around ‘distributed responsibility’ for flood risk response?

This project aims to stimulate awareness of river/flood risk issues, and encourage local resilience-building, by researching and facilitating two inter-related, site-specific performance events, in direct collaboration with local floodplain groups. A key objective will be to use the process of working towards creative outcomes to help generate a context in which expert and local knowledges are equally valued.

The chosen sites in Bristol (Eastville) and Bradford (Shipley) feature heavily canalised watercourses partly hidden from public view. A model of ‘distributed performance’ is being pioneered, involving a range of interconnected presentations offered by various groups and individuals in different microsites within the floodplain vicinity. Responses to these events among residents are being sought, and the outcomes of the two projects cross-referred, in order to develop research findings.

Project outcomes

Project outcomes are being captured and disseminated through:

  • a guidance/action pack for potential future users
  • a tool kit for engaging schools
  • interdisciplinary research articles and presentations.

The research results will be of interest to a wide range of disciplines and professions: researchers in theatre/performance studies, physical and cultural geography, social history; professionals in flood risk management (Environment Agency, local authorities); and social engagement professionals.

Attention is being given to how the research can generate sustainable follow-through in the case study settings, and how the research outcomes are cascaded to other urban flood risk groups.

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