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.

The Borough with a Big Heart

Judy Sarsby writes:

When I saw the call Care4Calais put out for winter coats and boots for the refugees living in the French camps, I knew people in my borough, who had responded so well to the shout out for PPE in care homes, would respond. And they did. Elmbridge Excelled!  I shall be travelling to Calais on the 21st and will now be taking a large van, as the donations have flooded in from all around Elmbridge.

I work as a volunteer for the charity Elmbridge Can who help refugees settle in the borough, so I was not surprised when my colleagues stepped up. Their generosity and the generosity of the Elmbridge Lib Dems, of friends and of locals from Claygate to Weybridge has been exceptional. One chap got the whole street in Claygate involved and, after filling the car last week, I am going back again for more. 

I put a word out to friends in the Weybridge Rowing Club and had parcels left in the changing rooms and on the mail box at all hours. Given how much we all cleared out during lockdown the response has been wonderful. There are no words for the generosity extended by our people to those people in Calais so desperately in need. We would like to thank each and every one of those who donated for the kindness of their contribution.

The charity Care4Calais https://care4calais.org/donate-now/  supports refugees sleeping rough across France and Belgium. This drive is particularly focused on the immediate need to keep people warm and dry, not an easy task when most live in tents or makeshift shelters. The bitter cold of winter has now moved in and people are trying to stay alive in freezing conditions. 

During my time working with Elmbridge Can, local acquaintances have referred to my work with “illegal immigrants”. It saddens me that these people are not aware that refugees are not illegal immigrants. The people I help don’t want to enter our country illegally – the problem is that the situation in their home countries means they have to leave to protect themselves and their children. If you come from a country that is at war or you live under oppression it’s unlikely that country will issue you with a passport or visa, so there is no legal way for them to travel.

My granddaughter asked why our Syrian friends left their home. I explained that their home was bombed, the schools and the shops closed, their lives were at risk and life just couldn’t go on as normal. I said I hoped if that happened to us that someone would care enough to help. The refugee crisis is one of the greatest humanitarian issues of our generation and how we respond will define us for years to come. In Elmbridge, this month, we showed that we care enough to at least try and give what others so desperately need.

 

Desborough Island

The vision I think we should all support is for Desborough Island to be an outdoor, green sports facility that utilises this beautiful Weybridge island to its maximum potential. Outdoor sport can go hand in hand with diverse wildlife, the new proposed Wetlands and enhancing the appeal of the green spaces.

Currently on the island we have rugby, football, cricket and netball. Rowing and canoeing have long been sports enjoyed on the river and, this year, paddle boarding and wild swimming saw a huge increase in participation so that more and different people enjoyed the outdoor sports our river has to offer.

It could be even better. We could have a running path and cycle circuit all around the island and boating facilities for sports people with a disability. If we were to develop the existing area of Vandals and maybe employ a caretaker-come ranger to maintain the facilities and patrol the island, we would have an enviable green outside sport and wildlife island for all local residents to enjoy throughout the year.

We should cherish this beautiful site and look after the wildlife whilst enhancing our outdoor sports facilities for people of all ages and abilities.

Judy Sarsby

PPE for Care Homes

IMG_7194.jpg

On the second Thursday of “clapping for carers” it was encouraging to see so many venture on to the street and cheer and clap near our local care home. The co-owner of Heath Lodge reached out and explained they had a confirmed case of Covid-19 within one of their homes and were seriously short of PPE. I’m not a medic or key worker, but this instantly reminded me I had a skill set to offer! I had retired from my sourcing and manufacturing company five years earlier but now could reopen the lines of communication and search for reliable makers and suppliers of masks and gowns. I contacted my old  colleagues and we set to work. Vicki Macleod, helped connect us with a government official who put us in touch directly with the NHS Procurement team.  We are now feeding through details and estimates for manufacturing and supplying PPE, including gowns. We’re also trying to help local hospitals, care homes and key workers through Surrey County Council.

The time difference makes for a long day and insomnia has never proved more welcome to working practice! NHS technical specifications, safety standards and test reports certainly maintain focus. We’re not there yet, there is a substantial need still to be met. But by doing something I know how to do well, that may ultimately bring protection to so many who give so much to others, is without question, a privilege.