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CoDesRes in Caherdaniel

Updated: Jun 6, 2020

Images from workshop 2, A.McKeown

Dr Anita McKeown, Eleanor Turner, CoDesRes and artist Sean O’Laoghaire faciliated a creative community engagement process with the residents of Caherdaniel village, in particular, the Caheradaniel Japanese Knotweed group (a sub-group of Caherdaniel Choiste pobal) S. Kerry. Supported by the EPA and Water and Communities, the project aims to aid the development of an integrated strategy and community action plan for the Coomnahorna River, using the the pCr methodology. Considered as a vital part of the village, the aim is to look at the potential opportunities available for restoring the river as a focal point of the village that contributes to the village’s natural and cultural heritage while seeking to contribute new approaches to long-standing environmental issues. The project contributes to localising the SDGs by making contributions to addressing the following targets on SDG4 - Quality Education, SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities, SDG14 Life Below Water and SDG 15 Life on Land

  • 4.7 By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development

  • 11.4 Strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage

  • 14.1 By 2025, prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution

  • 15.1 By 2020, ensure the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems and their services, in particular forests, wetlands, mountains and drylands, in line with obligations under international agreements

Using an arts-led approach, the group embarked on a series of workshops, the aim of which was to reimagine a new future for the river group, the Coomnahorna River and its surrounds. The methods used sought to encourage the group and other residents to think differently about the river and utilise their creativity, knowledge and imagination to develop an innovative response to the river. This approach aims to enable the group to develop new perspectives around engagement and opportunities that could enable the restoration of the river as a central feature and asset of the village. At the same time the approach encourages a form of placemaking that can be considered symbiotic placemaking; that is an interdependent, mutually beneficial form of placemaking. This sees the river as integral to the well-being of the village and its residents; human and more-than-human and their care and ultimately their strategic plan as nurturing the river ecology.

The purpose of an integrated strategy and community action plan is to provide a direction and a framework for development by building upon what already exists and has been achieved and identify what could be done. The development of such a plan is an important activity for an organisation and offers an opportunity to reflect on its purpose and core aims. Further, it is a focused consideration of what is required and to set out a vision for the future; a road map to focus their efforts to achieve their goals. A strategic plan is therefore a statement of intent and a renewal of the group's commitment to the river and its centrality to the village.

The events brought together individuals and groups within the community to strengthen the network and improve communications between community members, the creation of a strategic plan will assist the newly formed group, if that is the direction chosen, to ensure integrating of the interests of the wider community and wider environmental impact through greater engagement. Objectives of the project were as follows:

  • 1. Identify issues, challenges, objectives and practical solutions

  • 2. Create an action plan for local projects to protect, maintain and improve the water quality, biodiversity and habitat of the river catchment

  • 3. Plan a strategy to carry out the action plan (including agreed timelines & priorities and working structure of the catchment partnership

Session 1: World Café style engagement with the catchment including problem-finding and considering the challenges as perceived

This included a facilitated discussion with participants around the visual and narrative history of the river. Participants were invited to contribute photographs / stories of the catchment to add to a public river timeline exhibit to look for and consider any changes and the emergence of the problem over time.

Put yourself on the map, workshop 1, image A.McKeown

Situating the participants: The session opened with an introduction to the day, the aims of the day and an introduction to each other. This then involved placing themselves on the map of the river and sharing their personal daily experiences of the river - the initial process of problem finding and considering the challenges as perceived by the participants. This quickly showed clustering of participation (age and location) and identifies certain demographics and physical locations lower in the catchment that may need further engagement with to get the fullest picture and diversity of experience and knowledge. Follow up activities could be created and targeted to this aim.

Over the space of a morning the group began piecing together stories from living memory about the history and heritage of the river. Fascinating facts surfaced, from bronze-age copper mines, to hydroelectric dams in the 1950’s to childhood games along the banks. At the end of the day, a substantial timeline of the story of our river had been put together, tracing the village from its connections to the network of European culture over 4000 years ago to the present. This set the scene for the next workshop which was planned to be a little more adventurous.

Visual narrative history Materials: Large scroll - pens, glue, blank wall paper

  • Gather copies of images and articles and any other info - stories / anecdotes - to place in timeline

  • Set time boundaries and facilitate the scroll

  • The workshop was 2 hrs longer than proposed to enable participants to attend at different times during the session due to existing time-pressured schedules. This more flexible approach proved productive as was a more inclusive an enabled more participants to contribute whereas a shorter workshop would not have allowed this

Details of visual scroll, image A.McKeown

None of the participants brought images of the river to complete the visual narrative history of the river so this activity was adapted to create a scroll of knowledge, through stories of the catchment. Participants were encouraged through structured questioning prepared in advance through the artists curiosity and specific methodology used and the initial sharing of lived experience and personal narratives. Discussion seemed to identify key changes in the last 20 - 30 years with pre-knotweed and the pollution problems within the memory of the participants. While the pollution problem could be attributed to increased residents at certain times of the year impacting on volume as well as inefficient use of septic tanks e.g. dormancy in winter. The knotweed problem was more illusive. The artists have been gathering knowledge where possible, in addition to this, to create a public visual timeline that will be exhibited as part of the strategic plan development.

World Café style questions with group The World café section was developed around three structured questions to gather specific knowledge;

  1. What is your personal relationship to the river?

  2. Do you think your relationship to the river could be better?

  3. Name one thing that could make YOUR relationship to the river better

Each group fed back to the whole group after each question with open reflection and sharing across the groups. The final ‘question’ involved swapping question 2 so that a different group begins to look for initial possibilities to developing solutions to making their relationship to the river better.

This section of the session enabled the facilitators to gather the ideas and concerns of the

participants moving them from their personal / past experiences towards thinking about the future. This process shared a range of ideas and began to identify the issues, challenges, objectives that build the foundations for the practical solutions and local projects that will encourage further participation and develop ways of protecting, maintaining and improving the water quality, biodiversity and habitat of the river catchment.

A number of ongoing key concerns presented themselves.

1. Invasive species and the ongoing issues with the Japanese knotweed

2. Pollution: The sewage in the summer with increased residents in the village

3. More local participation needed

4. Student engagement - work with primary schools

5. Develop tourism opportunities

There were also a number of initial solutions to these concerns mooted;

1. Provide resources for landowners to maintain the river and the invasive species where it crosses their land.

2. Competitive planting to try to address the invasive species

3. Pollution - consideration of ‘hot spots’ above / below the town and possible mixed solutions.

4. Make the river path more accessible - enable walking / leisure activities

5. Work with students and citizen science projects to encourage more participation with the primary school students.

Session 2: Walking and sensing the catchment

Workshop two saw the group hopping on Seano’s bus and heading for the top of the catchment. Sean and Anita devised a series of observational methods from artistic practice to engage the group’s participants differently, over the course of an evening, journeying from source to sea. Following the course of the river, the group stopped at 4 strategic locations to facilitate further discussions around the resources available to the community from the river and how best we harness them, both economical in terms of hydroelectric power and flood mitigation, and socially for the myriad of personal benefits people gain from having a space to enjoy nature, particularly blue spaces.

The aim of session 2 was to situate the participants in the landscape and connect to the physicality of the river. The session began as close to the source of the river which in itself showed issues of accessibility and even knowledge of where the source was. Each participant was given a ‘notebook’ and pen to undertake a series of focused tasks over the duration of the walk at key ‘focus’ points to develop a more sensory engagement with the catchment and highlight overlooked knowledge. This involves short timed observations both visual and audio observation tasks such as listening and positioning themselves in the directions and noticing the different perspectives and aspects of the landscape.

These activities encourage discussion and provoke the sharing of other information that would not normally be presented within community development facilitation this included childhood memories and discussion around the changes to the river over the years. This helps to re-position the participants in relation to their landscape, and begin to make new connections, which enables new ideas and possibilities to emerge. The process enables a more creative response to finding and solving problems as the participants are able to re-position the problems within broader systems.

This can offer additional knowledge from within the ‘problem-landscape’ or knowledge from other fields or situations that can be adapted. This engagement helps to raise a different awareness that aims to encourage a wider environmental action and understanding within the community, which can then be utilised to develop other engagement activities and visitors to the community. We will be completing the third session in the Autumn and we look forward to sharing more about the project with you in our next newsletter.

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