What’s the point of rivers, anyway? #RiverCity Drinks Reception

I attended the #RiverCity drinks reception which launched 'What's the point of rivers, anyway?' a series of events curated by artist Amy Sharrocks at the inaugural Reading-On-Thames festival. The aim of the festival is to boost business and the quality of life in Reading by capitalising on underutilised assets - to paraphrase Nigel Horton-Baker of Reading UK CIC economic development company. The underused assets being the River Thames, the Kennet & Avon Canal and the Holy Brook.

Reading’s early history as a river port was based on the confluence of the rivers Thames and Kennet, and with the Holy Brook also flowing under the town, Reading has been a waterfront town for well over a thousand years.

The #RiverCity reception, appropriately held at a Thames-side conference room of the Crowne Plaza hotel was a space to talk all things water and aimed to build connections between researchers, artists, academics, scientists and planners to support ways to face unpredictable futures - address questions of population, tides and city structures and consider Reading as a river city.

John Haxworth, partner at architectural practice Barton Willmore spoke on the many different 'points' of rivers - what can they be used for? These included Leisure, Places to Gather, Transport, Promenades, Ecology, Resilience to flooding, Sport and the potential in Reading to do more in, on or near the water.

Amy Sharrocks is an artist who has been working with water for 12 years. The festival focuses on our proximity to the water, what we can do next to it or on top of it, but Amy wants us to get into it, and so she organised 'Fry's Island Swim' which is a 750 metre swim around Fry's Island at Caversham Lock on the river Thames. 80 people will enjoy a celebratory swim in the Thames on Sunday 17th September which will bring the Reading On Thames festival to a close.

This festival underlines two of Reading's major ambitions. Like our neighbour Henley-On-Thames, Reading also has the river Thames running through it. Apparently we have the largest frontage of the Thames in any local authority. But the Thames is not part of Reading's name, nor do many people realise it is here. Tourists do not come to visit the Thames in Reading the way they go to the Seine in Paris. Hence the 'Reading-On-Thames' festival name to increase association of the two. In the same way the festival uses the hashtag #RiverCity. Reading is the largest town in the UK and has failed in three bids to be granted city status. If we call ourselves a city maybe we are a city, maybe it will happen sooner, let's just say we are now before it is official, why wait for permission, think it, be it...

What's this got to do with the arts? Last year Reading UK CIC organised Reading Year of Culture 2016. Other locations are chosen as cities of culture, we chose ourselves and organised a year's worth of art and cultural events. Following the year of culture Reading won half a million pounds of funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Arts Council England and Historic England which will pay for another three years of the Reading On Thames festival and other projects to secure Reading's position as a leading cultural destination.

The Reading On Thames festival continues this week with many events, some free and some family friendly including a Lego building workshop at Broad Street Mall, exhibitions at The Turbine House, Blake's Lock and The Weller Centre, Caversham; Opera and theatre at Caversham Court Gardens, Poetry walks and talks, Writers and thinkers, and workshops for children led by arts organisation Jelly and writer / performer Becci Louise. See their website for the full line up: http://readingplaceofculture.org/reading-on-thames-festival/

(c) Wendy Thomson 2017 - See my blog on #RiverCity, parenting and jobs for artists

Edit: Continuing the conversation - from Amy Sharrocks:

In the RiverCity discussion we talked about: "Remembering to cherish all the rivers in Reading; to imagine building floating theatres and libraries, or canal boats as exhibition spaces; to build more water features and make the chance to touch and play with water; to provide more access points to the water itself; to build more meeting sites, and commission public art that gathers people around it; to include Waterfest and learn from Reading Pride; to make breathable cities, with rain gardens that work with the seasons and environmental changes, with creative use of green spaces; for all kinds of art to be treasured; to understand Reading as a spectacular ancient site along this confluence of rivers and for the vivid and spectacular histories of Reading to be brought out in new ways along all the waterways."

"It was fantastic to hear the many demands to ensure inclusivity and diversity with a proper understanding of social commissioning, the repeated calls for better quality public spaces, social housing conditions, more policing, privately funded drinking water fountains as huge social care with minimal cost, and the generally held desire for all the festival work and commissions to be seen in context and developed as a whole social package, with new understandings of courageous town planning. Water is a gift, as well as an asset, with its many different offers of health, happiness, serenity and joy."

The evening certainly widened my understanding of Reading's water, and was a fantastic launch into the Fry's Island Swim and the whole programme of ideas we have put together to better understand What's the point of rivers, anyway?"

What's the Point of Rivers, Anyway? #RiverCity Drinks Reception
7.30pm - 9pm Crowne Plaza Hotel, Caversham, Reading
Nigel Nigel Horton-Baker, Executive Director of Reading UK CIC
Amy Sharrocks, Artist
John Haxworth, Partner at Barton Willmore

What's the Point of Rivers, Anyway? events from September 11th - 17th http://readingplaceofculture.org/2017/07/20/whats-point-rivers-anyway/
Reading on Thames Festival 9 - 17th September http://readingplaceofculture.org/reading-on-thames-festival/
Rivers of the World exhibition, Caversham 13-17th September http://readingplaceofculture.org/2017/09/05/stunning-reading-schools-art...
Amy Sharrocks https://www.artsadmin.co.uk/artists/amy-sharrocks

Utiilising Reading's Natural Assets http://www.bartonwillmore.co.uk/Knowledge/Blogs/Utilising-Reading%E2%80%...
Should Reading be granted City status? http://www.getreading.co.uk/news/reading-berkshire-news/petitioners-call...
Reading secures £550k 'Great Place' award http://news.reading.gov.uk/great-place-award/

Author's review: