"Before the Flood": Interweaving situated performance and flood narratives for resilience building in hard-to-reach urban flood risk communities.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: School of English


This research project involves a partnership between two networks from the 2010/11 AHRC ‘Researching Environmental change’ programme. The ‘Performance Footprint’ network brings expertise in using site-specific performance to promote awareness of environmental change in diverse settings. The ‘Living Flood Histories’ network has explored how situated flood narrative and memorialisation practices can bring new insights in how to engage public groups, at changing flood risk. This proposed 12 month project responds to an invitation from the Environment Agency (EA) to explore how situated performance and flood narratives might be used to engage ‘hard to reach’ urban floodplain groups, at risk from flooding but without recent flood experience. Such groups may be disconnected in both physical and human terms (e.g. divided by urban planning, lacking in community cohesion), proving unresponsive to recent policy initiatives emphasising the importance of community-led adaptation planning in dealing with flood risk. This project aims to stimulate awareness of these issues, and encourage local resilience-building, by researching and facilitating two inter-related, site-specific performance events, in direct collaboration with local volunteers. The chosen sites in Bristol (Eastville) and Bradford (Shipley) have been identified by the EA, and feature heavily canalised watercourses partly hidden from public view.

The research process will begin by reviewing the findings of the contributing research networks, and considering their application in the project context. How might situated narratives and performances best be framed to encourage local engagement with flood risk? Can the ‘after the flood’ memorialisation practices of other communities be used as a creative means to inform ‘before the flood’ resilience-building in the chosen site contexts? Can creative participation be employed as a means for: developing and enhancing ‘a watery sense of placeund future climate scenarios; understanding issues around ‘distributed responsibility’ for flood risk response. Local engagement strategies will be developed in collaboration with facilitation experts. Volunteer participants will be involved in a project development period, with regular creative workshops and discussions extrapolating the research concerns. A key objective will be to use the process of working towards creative outcomes to help generate a context in which expert and local knowledges are equally valued. Dialogues will be facilitated between local participants, flood scientists and other experts, EA and local council representatives.

The development period will lead towards participatory public performance events, presented in the context of festive community gatherings (e.g. street parties). A model of ‘distributed performance’ will be pioneered, involving a range of interconnected presentations offered by various groups and individuals in different microsites within the floodplain vicinity. This will maximise potential for local involvement, and emphasise the ecological theme of connectivity between people and places. Responses to these events among residents will be sought, and the outcomes of the two projects cross-referred, in order to develop research findings. Project outcomes will be captured and disseminated through: a guidance/action pack for potential future users; interdisciplinary research articles and presentations; documentation presented on collaborating networks’ websites. The research results will be of interest to a wide range of disciplines and professions: researchers in theatre/performance studies, physical and cultural geography, social history; professionals in flood risk management (EA, local authorities); social engagement professionals. Attention will be given to how the research can generate sustainable follow-through in the case study settings, and how the research outcomes are cascaded to other urban flood ri

Planned Impact

This interdisciplinary, interprofessional project will contribute to knowledge enhancement in key official organisations in flood risk management. The national Environment Agency (EA) is a key partner in its inception and development. The project responds directly to a challenge from the EA’s Community and Stakeholder Relations Manager, to develop innovative ways of engaging ‘hard to reach’ urban groups with flood risk issues. National and regional EA officers have advised on identifying sites for this pilot project, and will remain involved in an advisory capacity. The EA will benefit directly from the project’s research findings, through its development of innovative creative approaches for flood-risk engagement, and its testing of appropriate means of facilitation for such engagement methods. Other partners in distributed flood risk management, such as Local Authorities, parish councils, and the National Flood Forum (a self-help organisation for flood-affected communities) will also benefit from these findings. The city councils in Bristol and Bradford will be engaged as key stakeholders in the project: Bradford Council has already identified potential synergies with the EU-wide Flood Resilient Cities programme (in which Bradford is the main UK partner city).

Other beneficiaries include key collaborators engaged in the two case study areas. In Bristol, the community catalyst organisation Streets Alive will develop and facilitate involvement in the project among local residents and community groups, and will benefit from an enhanced understanding of how creative research processes can complement their established methods for delivery of community-generated street parties and events. Similarly, the arts facilitation organisation Rio Associates will benefit from its own part in delivering this multi-agency performance research project. In Bradford, the arts facilitation role will be played by Red Ladder Theatre Company, whose ongoing interests in creatiement around environmental and climate change issues will be further enhanced through interprofessional involvement with academic researchers. The Airedale Waterways Partnership (a consortium of key stakeholders in the area’s blue / green infrastructure) will benefit from enhanced public engagement with issues around water in the landscape, and through Canal Connections will help deliver the community facilitation side of the Shipley case study (Streets Alive will also advise, ensuring consistency across the two projects, and further building their national capacity).

Other stakeholders in these areas will also be identified early in the research process and invited to advise and participate in the development of the case study projects. These include river advocacy groups (Aire Rivers Trust, Free the Frome), the Royal Society of Arts (developing a parallel ‘Connected Communities’ project in the Eastville area), church groups, environmental groups, neighbourhood groups, etc. Crucially, local residents in both case study areas will be invited to participate as volunteer facilitators and performers, thereby benefiting from: the dialogue between expert and local knowledges that the project will encourage; the opportunity to develop creative presentation skills as a means of responding to and enhancing their own ‘sense of place’ in these sites of changing flood risk. It is anticipated that the process of connecting up groups and individuals in these areas, by engaging them in collaborative creative research, will also build capacity for future resilience planning and flood awareness measures. Furthermore, the cross-referenced findings of the twin case study projects will lead to the development and dissemination of guidelines / working principles, enabling other groups and agencies to apply the methods developed in creating similar site-specific performance projects in other flood-risk localities. The potential future impacts of this research are therefore.


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Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
AH/K502789/1 14/02/2012 30/06/2012 £78,322
AH/K502789/2 Transfer AH/K502789/1 01/07/2012 28/05/2013 £69,178
Title Flow 
Description Site-specific performance involving multiple local partner organisations, presenting a series of dance and music sequences as a large audience made its way towards the River Frome, following a route underneath the elevated M32 motorway in Eastville, Bristol. Concluded with display of aerial choreography, between concrete motorway pillars decorated with river-themed murals for the occasion. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2012 
Impact This one-off event was attended by a large local audience (est. 350+), who were also invited to engage with flood risk literature available on stalls at the end point of the journey. Viewed by Michael Guthrie (Environment Agency's Community and Stakeholder Relations Manager, who was in attendance) as a highly original example of community engagement with these issues through spectacle and participation. 
URL http://multi-story-eastville.co.uk/gallery/flow-a-promenade-dance-circus-performance-under-the-m32/
Title Multi-Story Water 
Description Three-part theatrical tour of the river and canal landscape of Shipley, West Yorkshire. Comprised of two walks led by actors (Green Route, Red Route) and a connecting canal boat ride hosted by storyteller and musician (Blue Route). Performances drew on extensive research interviews with local residents and stakeholders, to present a fusion of site-specific performance practice and verbatim/documentary theatre practice. First presented in September 2012. A second, somewhat revised version of these performances was presented in July 2013, as part of the follow-on grant activities. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2012 
Impact Positive responses from audience members are documented on project website. These performances responded to a brief from the Environment Agency to explore the use of site-specific performance practice in raising awareness of urban flood risk. Resultant report on project has been circulated to stakeholders in EA and elsewhere, and discussed in EA teleconference. Further interest in the project from the Lead Local Flood Authority (Bradford District Metropolitan Council) resulted in a commission to develop another performance for the EU-supported Flood Resilient Cities conference, in Bradford City Centre, May 2013 (see other outputs). 
URL http://www.multi-story-shipley.co.uk
Description Inspired by a brief from the Environment Agency, this practice-based research attempted to explore and develop methodologies for creating site-specific, community-facing performance events which would engage and inform residents around river awareness and flood risk in their local areas. This work was carried out simultaneously in two separate case study areas in Bristol and Bradford. Initial survey research in these communities revealed a stronger-than-expected degree of awareness of the benefits and risks associated with the local rivers, and an interest with engaging with associated issues on a number of levels (not just the single issue of flood risk). Consequently, the performance strategies developed in both case study areas sought to engage local audiences through a multi-layered approach that reflected these responses (hence the revised project title, 'Multi-Story Water'). Creative strategies were also developed for revealing and/or reflecting on relatively hidden or neglected stretches of river, as well as those immediately proximate to potentially at-risk neighbourhoods.
Exploitation Route The report linked to above (and provided in print form to various professional and academic partners) provides recommendations for how similar, site-sensitive performance events might be developed in other at-risk riverside communities, through multi-partner working. Another notable aspect of the project was an emergent emphasis on rivers and canals as alternative 'heritage corridors' (i.e. rich sources of historical narrative, which provide another focus for local engagement), and we are further exploring these potentials in collaboration with relevant professionals.
Sectors Education,Environment,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL http://issuu.com/martinharriscentre/docs/drama_multi-story_water_report/1
Description The findings of this research were initially manifested in a series of live, public performance events in the two case study locations in Bristol and Bradford (September 2012). These events variously used site-specific theatre, storytelling, dance, and film as means for engagement. In both locations, these events also included participation and contribution from stakeholder professionals from the Environment Agency, local council representatives, etc. Positive responses to these events prompted follow-on work including a full-scale revival of the Bradford performances (July 2013), an additional film screening event in Bristol (June 2013), and the creation of a number of short films providing a visual legacy for the project. The work in Bradford resulted directly in an invitation from Bradford City Council to develop and present a new piece in the city centre to mark the opening of the EU-wide Flood ResilienCity conference (May 2013). This performance, created in collaboration with local schoolchildren, was widely discussed at the conference by representatives from flood-responsible agencies across Europe. The findings of the project have been widely discussed with relevant professionals, who have responded very positively to this creatively-focused approach to public engagement around water and flood issues. These discussions have informed the development of a new, large-scale, multi-partner AHRC research project titled "Towards Hydro-Citizenship" (2014-17). Again this involves direct engagement with stakeholder representatives as well as local communities.
First Year Of Impact 2012
Sector Environment,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services

Description Higher Coach Road 'Beach Party' 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Community engagement event for residents of the Higher Coach Road housing estate, Shipley (Bradford, W. Yorks). Designed in collaboration with Canal Connections/Marie Millward, it presented opportunities for residents to (a) engage in creative activities, (b) learn about the history of the estate, (c) discuss local environmental concerns with representatives of relevant stakeholder organisations including Bradford Metropolitan District Council, Environment Agency, Aire Rivers Trust.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
URL http://multi-story-shipley.co.uk/?p=408
Description London Theatre Seminar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The London Theatre Seminar is attended by academics, postgraduates, and professional practitioners in theatre and performance, and is advertised across the city and at participating institutions. This was a guest lecture about the 'Before the Flood' research, titled "The Year of the Flood: Staging Watery Dissensus in Shipley and Saltaire"
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014