River Shuttle makes friends for life

Joanne Bradley
River Shuttle Coordinator

I have been lucky enough to coordinate Thames21’s work on the River Shuttle in Bexley, on the outskirts of South East London, just over two years, and from its modest beginnings I have seen it grow into a successful, active and positively productive community group. The many volunteers that helped get the project off the ground are some of the friendliest, hard-working and dedicated people I have ever met and it’s been an absolute pleasure and honour to work with them…in all weathers!

I remember feeling quite nervous at the beginning – being handed a river and asked to build a project and volunteer base around it. Although I am from Bexley and very familiar with the area, I wondered how we would engage people in their local river. I needn’t have worried though as I discovered ‘word of mouth’ is a powerful tool when put to good use in local communities.

Over the past 2 years, the River Shuttle project has been hugely successful in engaging local people of all ages with their river through a grand total of 264 public  volunteering activities . There is now a dedicated and ever- growing team of local volunteers committed to  removing litter and debris from the river, tackling invasive non-native species and getting stuck in with river restoration work. In total, 1172 bags of rubbish have been removed from the River Shuttle, not including other larger and more unusual objects found discarded in this small tributary of the River Cray. Volunteers have also found war memorabilia, missing passports, parts of various vehicles and weird and wonderful wildlife! Through this work the volunteers have developed their knowledge of the river, its ecology and geography and also learned new and very useful practical skills.

With the help of volunteers, we have also worked directly with schools, youth groups and local families with a focus on environmental education. For the last two summers we were able to run hugely popular summer holiday programmes for local children which included fun, engaging activities, in the river, free of charge! In April 2012 a sign board produced by children from the Ellenor Lions Hospice youth group with the help of project volunteers was unveiled by the Deputy Mayor of Bexley, Councillor John Wilkinson next to the river in Bexley Woods.

The project has also worked very closely with a local charity called Advocacy for All which advocates for adults with learning difficulties in the local area. The group has been heavily involved with events on the river including clean-ups and guided walks and two of the adults in this group are now Event Support Team members, helping me to deliver public events on the river.

The success of the project was highlighted by the awards it received in the Bexley Environmental Challenge Awards in 2011 and 2012. It won Gold in 2011 and Silver Gilt in 2012 with an additional Community Award for the positive impact it has had in the wider community.

So while this is the end of this project, it is certainly not the end of Thames21’s plans for the Shuttle. As one final challenge I am in the process of working with some of the volunteers to set up a new group – Friends of the River Shuttle. I would hate to see all the positive work the volunteers have done come to an end so the formation of this group will allow volunteers to continue organising and delivering clean up events on the Shuttle through taking part in Thames 21’s Training Programme. Many thanks to those who have shown great support for this so far. It’s first event is scheduled to be in May, so watch this space!

Coordinating this project has been a steep learning curve for me and it definitely hasn’t been a one-person show. I have learned so much from the volunteers I have worked with, been inspired by their enthusiasm for their river, amazed at their dedication even in freezing temperatures and pouring rain and through them felt a real sense of community which these days is a precious thing. I have learned that the key to building a successful and long-lasting community project is to tap in to what’s important to the local people, find out what skills people have and are willing to share and make getting involved as easy as possible! Tea and biscuits also go down well and are a great way to boost ‘returning volunteer’ numbers.

People volunteer on the River Shuttle and other rivers in London for a wide variety of reasons: to meet new, like minded people, get a bit fitter, learn new skills, to make a difference in their local area, the list goes on. But whatever the reason, they offer their time for free and I believe if you hold that in the forefront of your mind at all times, you can’t go far wrong.

I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank all of the volunteers who took part in the project, both on the ground and behind the scenes; for their support, dedication and enthusiasm over the last two years. It simply wouldn’t have happened without you, and I have thoroughly enjoyed working with you all.  I would also like to thank the Cory Environmental Trust and Bexley Council for the funding and support they provided to make it possible.

Finally, I would like to wish the very best of luck to the new Friends of the Shuttle group. I know you will do a brilliant job at keeping up the good work that has been carried out along the River Shuttle and I can’t wait to join in one of your events soon!

I look forward with anticipation to beginning my new role within Thames21, in which I will be delivering educational events for schools and families across London, including Bexley, so again, watch this space!

You can find out more about the Friends of the Shuttle group by emailing:

For more information on our other work in Bexley, see here or contact Michael Heath