Our MP visits Weybridge Rowing Club

Our local MP, Dr Ben Spencer, accepted an invitation to row at Weybridge Rowing Club on the 6th June. A former college rower (he’s in the blue t-shirt in the middle of the boat), he was accompanied by Cllr Judy Sarsby, a member of the rowing club, as he rowed around Desborough Island in an eight. It was a good opportunity to point out some of the problems experienced by river users, including the illegally moored boats along the Desborough Cut, which a few weeks earlier had again caused the cancellation of the much-loved Weybridge Ladies Regatta, and sewage discharges by the water companies. He was talked through the key location for the future flood-relief channel into the Thames (the River Thames Scheme) and where the ‘Row Paddle Run’ charity event takes place to raise money for The Grâce Dear Trust for young people’s mental health. He experienced a busy morning of residents using the river for sport and pleasure.

Helping to clean our river – you can join too!


Councillor Judy Sarsby stepped up the litter picking efforts around Desborough Island this summer, having initiated the Monday morning litter pick on the island two years ago.

Together with rowers from Weybridge Rowing Club, Judy paddled around the River Thames and pulled out floating plastics from the banks. A big thank you to Judy, who works so tirelessly on so many issues!

Keeping our rivers and waterways clean is as important as removing the litter from the land, not only for pollution reduction to enhance life for humans, animals and plants, but also for climate resilience.

If you would like to make an immediate impact locally and help with our litter pick, please get in touch with us at JSarsby@elmbridge.gov.uk. Come and be part of making a better river environment in our area!

Weybridge Social and Evacuee Housing

Officers of both PA Housing and Elmbridge Housing recently met with Cllr Judy Sarsby at Bramcote House, Weybridge, and agreed to allow Ukrainian evacuees to live in the building temporarily. This was a welcome decision that has offered stability to many families who travelled to Elmbridge to escape war in Ukraine. Sadly Bramcote is one of the three social housing buildings in Weybridge destined for demolition by PA Housing and replacement with primarily shared ownership properties. Work has started on St Catherine’s in Beales Lane, and Bramcote and Kemble Houses are due for demolition later this year.

The decision by PA Housing to replace social housing with shared ownership properties, designated as affordable housing, is a concern to local councillors who believe shared ownership housing in Weybridge, where prices are high, is actually unaffordable to key workers. The decisions by PA to replace these buildings were no doubt made before the perfect storm of Brexit/Covid/Ukrainian war and therefore do not reflect the current needs of the town. With the planned rebuilding of medical services on the hospital site with increased capacity and therefore more staff, we need key workers and the stability that secured housing offers to them. Cllr Sarsby is working with EBC to consider options for the future of key workers and Ukrainians in Weybridge.

Weybridge Ukrainian Hub

Every Tuesday morning between 1000 and 1200 a group of volunteers from Elmbridge CAN, our local refugee charity, hosts the Weybridge Ukrainian Hub at the Weybridge Centre for the Community.  With over 400 Ukrainians in Elmbridge through the Homes for Ukraine scheme, this and other weekly hubs throughout the borough are proving to be a vital source of information as well as a place for fellow Ukrainians to meet over a coffee and homemade cake.  

From finding out where to enrol for English classes, how to open a bank account or register with a GP or access school places and everything in between, including access to a Food Banks and other necessities that we take for granted, the hub has grown to provide support in CV writing and interview skills whilst also organising children’s activities. After several weeks, some of the Ukrainian visitors have also taken on support roles themselves as they have become more integrated into life in Weybridge.

There have been uplifting stories but also harrowing ones and the volunteers have shown compassion and ingenuity to find ways to lessen the trauma of settling into a new life a long way from home. It is always a pleasure when the same faces come back to the hub regularly to share details of their progress.

If you would like to find out more about volunteering at these hubs or would like to host a Ukrainian visitor or family, please email jsarsby@elmbridge.gov.uk

River Safety

The British winter doesn’t stop rowers and kayakers on our stretch of the Thames from venturing out when the temperature drops!

In the last few months, your local Councillors have worked with the Environment Agency (EA), other water-sport clubs and the River Users Group to try to make our stretch of the Thames a safer place for the enjoyment of river activities. Fallen trees, many partially submerged along the bank, have been a constant reminder of the ruthless chainsaw felling earlier in the year and the aftermath of some powerful storms. The obstructions they cause can easily cause a capsize of an unwary visitor in any small boat which, in freezing temperatures, can be dangerous.

Cllr Ashley Tilling & Eva Ferlez winning their event at Walton SBH

We are pleased to report that many of the broken trees and overhanging branches were cut back and removed just in time for the Walton Small Boats Head race on the 11th December.

We continue to try to identify places where we could plant new trees to help to combat climate change and to make our green spaces more attractive (see article here). We will also keep working with EBC to persuade the EA to take their responsibilities seriously and remove the unsightly and polluting illegally moored boats that continue to proliferate on our Elmbridge stretches of the Thames.

Planting Trees of Remembrance

On Sunday 14 November, five alders were planted in memory of individuals or groups of our local residents who died as a direct or indirect result of the Covid pandemic. One of the trees was dedicated to our late colleague, Cllr Andrew Davis.

Alison Roche tending the tree planted in memory of her husband, Cllr Andrew Davis.

Funding for these trees came from public donations collected by local community activist, Liani Mannifield, in the aftermath of the chainsaw felling of a number of trees along the Thames and elsewhere in Weybridge over the summer.

Elmbridge Borough Council Greenspaces team helped with selection and planting of the trees and the Mayor of Elmbridge and local councillors attended the event. Our thanks go to Liani, James East of Weybridge Litter Pickers and your local Lib Dem Councillor Judy Sarsby, who organised the event. Weybridge church leaders gave their support and helped identify families of those lost, while Weybridge Male Voice Choir sung as each of the families and groups planted the five trees. One of the alders was dedicated to the seven choir members from around Surrey and another by local care home workers in memory of those they nursed but who sadly died.

New Mayor launches his Charity Appeal

Following his election as Mayor of Elmbridge at the Annual Meeting of the Council on Wednesday 19 May, Councillor Tony Popham held his charity launch via Zoom on Thursday 20 May. Councillor Tony Popham has chosen to support The Grace Dear Trust for his Mayoral term of office.

Judy Sarsby writes:

In a year like no other, when so many are struggling to stay positive, it was encouraging to hear that the new Mayor has chosen a charity that reflects the needs of the young people of the borough struggling with mental health. The Grace Dear Trust is a powerful and active mental health charity set up in the memory of a sister and daughter, Grace, lost to suicide in February 2017 aged just 27. Grace had been suffering with depression and anxiety from the age of 13. The aim of Grace’s father, Graham, and sister, Hope, is to help save the lives of other young people suffering with mental health issues. Mental health is still seriously underfunded and requires more effective approaches to prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

Their slogan “it’s ok not to be ok” communicates the message that we can all have feelings of depression, but that we can reach out so that we do not have to suffer alone as there is help available. Many young people struggle to understand their own feelings and don’t know how to talk about them; this can lead to them suffering in silence without seeking the help they need. The charity supported by the Mayor, who lives in Hersham and has a teenage daughter, raises money to deliver presentations to schools and organisations on the importance of good mental health. The charity partners with local schools and clubs, providing mental health training courses and sets up strategies to support club members and pupils. They have embraced the pairing of sport with good mental health and also set up a young persons’ theatre project where they talk about their feelings through creative and performing arts. The Grace Dear Trust is certainly an appropriate cause in a year when showing empathy, listening and community spirit are of optimum importance to the young.


Oatlands Drive Crossing

Judy writes:

A friend with four boys at St James’ School expressed her concern about crossing with her children over Oatlands Drive when coming out of the path that runs from Grotto Road. Many parents with children have to cross this busy main road to reach the recreation ground or on their route to and from school. 

Grotto Road leads up the hill, from Thames Street, past St James’ School into an unusual traffic-free ‘green lane’ to Oatlands Drive. Unfortunately this lane is frequently overgrown and the path is narrow and obstructed by trees. Your ward councillors, Ashley and Vicki, asked Surrey County Council to draw up a scheme to install an improved and safer path for walkers and cyclists. Delayed by the pandemic, they have ensured it will come before the next council committee at which they hope it will secure funding approval.

Linking to this scheme, and to secure a much safer route to two of our schools (St James’ and St George’s Junior Schools), we are campaigning for a crossing on the busy stretch of Oatlands Drive close to where the ‘green lane’ meets the road.

Councillor Vicki McLeod recently took the opportunity to raise the issue with the leader of Surrey County Council. It has been confirmed that this will be considered as this area is under review, so hopefully we will be able to further enhance the safety of our Weybridge roads. We will continue to monitor the attention given to this issue by the council and trust that all families crossing at this point remain safe until a proper crossing is installed.  


Desborough Island

Our campaign to tidy up Desborough Island

As a keen rower with Weybridge Rowing Club, Weybridge Riverside candidate, Judy Sarsby, has noticed the increasing amount of rubbish being casually strewn around Desborough Island, some of it from fly-tippers. And so she set about forming an enthusiastic group of volunteers who meet every week to tidy up this lovely Weybridge open space. Everyone is welcome to join by getting in touch with Judy.

As summer begins and lockdown recedes, families, sports enthusiasts, walkers and picnickers venture onto the island to enjoy the peace and quiet, the fresh air and the flora and fauna. It appears that the example set by the litter-pickers has encouraged others to take their rubbish home, or at least to the bins at the entry to the island. On recent outings much less litter has been found on the green spaces, though there is still some fly-tipping.

Surrey County Council have recently announced that they will continue to help with funding of the Environment Agency’s scheme for a lower Thames flood relief channel from Staines to Shepperton. An exciting part of the plans include the formation of a wetland habitat on Desborough Island and improvements to access through forming an interconnected route along the channel for walkers and cyclists. 

We would welcome your ideas on the future of Desborough Island via our comments section below.


River Thames

The River Thames is a popular location for Weybridge residents to participate in many different types of recreation.  In this joint blog article Pete Hampson describes what the River Thames has meant for him over this past year and then Judy Sarsby reports on recent developments on unauthorised moorings. 

Pete Hampson writes: 
“Sitting at the confluence of the Wey and the Thames, Weybridge affords its residents some lovely surroundings, a fact that was brought home to me this year as lockdowns and other restrictions limited where we could go and what we were able to do.  

As a cyclist and keen walker, I can regularly be found making my way along one of our rivers and, in the case of the Thames, rowing along on it.  Since March I’ve been working from home and during the first lockdown my daily exercise often took me cycling along the Thames path.  In May we rowers were allowed back onto the river, socially distanced single sculling being the order of the day – single sculling closer than 2 metres to another boat generally provides a more immediate concern than potential COVID spread.  

In the absence of the normal water-traffic, nature had taken full command of the river, and when non-motorised craft were allowed to venture back we returned to an ornithologists dream with a great abundance of young bird life to be found: amongst the usual coots, mallards, moorhens, swans and geese, there were grebes, herons and even kingfishers to be spotted. 

Over the course of the summer, recreational river use flourished; canoeists and paddle boarders were out on the Wey, and in addition to their number on the Thames, we saw skiffs, oar-boards, kayaks, sailing boats, and plenty of swimmers alongside the usual pleasure craft mixing in with us rowers.  Meanwhile along the bank, anglers, walkers, runners and cyclists were making the most of the glorious weather and the wonderful surroundings.  Businesses were popping up, renting out equipment for people to enjoy, and providing classes to those wanting to try something new. And as the pubs re-opened, there were full beer gardens of patrons relaxing by the waters edge.

Now as we come to the end of the year, and endure a further lockdown, I’m again returning to my cycling and walking along the towpaths of our local riverbanks, and am heartened to see the many others who are managing to spend time out and about during these short days. Our rivers bring enormous benefit to us, improving our health, happiness and prosperity, but as with all natural resources they also need our protection.  Ensuring that we can continue to enjoy them for generations to come requires us to not only be aware of the risks they face, but play an active role in their conservation.”

Judy Sarsby adds
I recently interviewed local Olympic rower Pauline Peel (Bird). Please follow this link to view the video: Pauline Peel interview

One of the problems faced by users of the River Thames is the presence of boats mooring permanently on both public and private land without permission.  Councillor Ashley Tilling is a fellow member of Weybridge Rowing Club and of Thames Valley Skiff Club and we have witnessed a significant increase in boats moored without permission along the river.

Many users of the river and local residents have raised a variety of concerns about these vessels. Their visual appearance is often dilapidated, there are questions about how the boats dispose of their general waste and on the Molesey stretch the boat residents have even fenced off areas of the towpath to claim as their own gardens. Towpath walkers have found this intimidating.    

The EA (Environment Agency) is responsible for policing the river and in September this year they told Elmbridge Borough Council that of 148 boats moored on the river only 53 had permission. More than six out of ten boats that the Agency checked had no permission to be on the mooring they were occupying.

The EA moorings are intended to be used free for the first 24 hours and are then chargeable up to a maximum of 72 hours. After the 72 hours the vessel is expected to move on and there is now a no return period of 24 hours. New signs have been erected explaining the charges and advising on how to pay. 

Maintaining an available supply of temporary moorings is very important to allow vessels to make passage, over several days, up and down the River Thames. If all the temporary moorings are blocked by vessels using them permanently then vessels on passage are forced to find an ad hoc unauthorised mooring. In October last year the EA at long last responded to these concerns and engaged an enforcement company to actively check licences and monitor moored boats. There was some success before the latest lockdown and it is hoped that work to move -on vessels moored without authorisation will commence apace over the summer months so that we can better enjoy our wonderful stretch of river.