Researchers at University College London (UCL) have just begun working on Community Water Management for a Liveable London (CAMELLIA), a new £4m project on water management in London. The project is being led by Imperial College London, in collaboration with the British Geological Survey and the University of Oxford. The partners include Peabody, one of London’s oldest and largest housing providers, local communities and housing estate residents as well as Thames Water, London Underground, Greater London Authority and Affinity Water.
The growing population of London, and its planned housing, requires water to be supplied, and flooding to be reduced as far as possible. However, the region is vulnerable to water shortages (droughts) and floods. This challenge is likely to worsen with climate change, alongside the expected economic growth of London and an associated increase in population.
Prof Sarah Bell from UCL is leading work on community engagement within the project. She says “This is a unique opportunity to bring together top-down and bottom-up approaches to improving quality of life in London while protecting our water resources and environment”. See what else she has to say, here:
“How did you get involved in the project?”
I had previously worked on a project called Engineering Comes Home, developing a toolkit to aid infrastructure engineers and communities to work together at the water, energy, food nexus. The team at Imperial were looking for a researcher with experience of working with local communities to collaborate with for CAMELLIA.
“Why do you think community engagement is so important for this topic?”
The research is challenge-based and aims to bring good science to people. Thus, the engagement is core to the research. We are keen to strengthen applications and rethink the role of communities in water management. Within London alone there are such diverse stakeholders and the system is currently so segmented – a bottom up approach is needed!
“How did you go about co-designing the research with your partners?”
Prior to submission, we held workshops to find out what the stakeholders’ priorities were. During these workshops we used systems diagrams to help everyone understand how different systems and stakeholders work. We spent a lot of time meeting individually with stakeholders to make sure the project was aligned with their medium- and long- term plans, as well as their immediate priorities.
“What were the difficulties in designing a co-produced project?”
NERC were looking to see that the project was truly co-produced with stakeholders, including local communities. The research team recognised at an early stage in developing the proposal that community engagement would be vital for success. Working across the many different scales, cultures and interests in water in London was a significant challenge. Now that the funding has been agreed we are going back again to stakeholders to involve them in the detailed planning and delivery of the programme. It is an iterative process, requiring lots of time to build and maintain trust.
“What is next for the project?”
The project is just kicking off. We are working with stakeholders to identify quick-wins and early deliverables to develop working relationships and demonstrate the value of the project. In the first year we will hopefully co-design a water-sensitive community garden with social housing residents in Southwark, and develop a 3D visualisation tool to help stakeholders engage with the challenges of water management in London.
Interview by: Dr Trupti Patel, Research Associate
Dept of Science & Technology Studies, Faculty of Maths & Physical Sciences,
University College London