Island Life- a lesson in imaginative re-use

Island Life- a lesson in imaginative re-use

We had a great week on St Agnes, Isles of Scilly, 28 miles west of Land’s End in Cornwall. It’s a tiny island with nothing to do except look at the sea and rocks, visit the many secluded beaches, swim, sail, eat and drink and weather watch. For an instant switch off from the stress of work you can’t beat it!

Our Kitchen

But this trip has highlighted how inspiring the place and it’s people are when it comes to re-use, and because of Sharing Communities and my Bristol Re-use investigations, this trip I found myself thinking how much my attitude to waste has been influenced by coming here for the past 28 years.


Being accessible only by water (unless you’re Prince Charles who arrived by boat but left by helicopter from the meadows while we were there) means that islanders have to think carefully about imports and exports, and that includes waste, which has to be buried, burned or composted within the islands. Recycling has to be sent to the mainland.

beach plastic 033It’s a good job there’s a long culture of re-use and re-making. Some items excitingly arriving from cargo washed up on those wonderful secluded beaches. The most famous example is Beady Pool on Wingletang (yes, those are real names of real places) after a Dutch cargo ship was wrecked nearby in the 17th century.

I don’t think any ceramic beads have been found for the past few years, but it may be no co-incidence that St Agnes has produced several jewelry makers. Most well known is probably Fay Page with her beautiful silver shells, who has emigrated to St Martins, but more interesting in terms of re-use are Rebecca Smith who has created some glorious pieces from beach-combed glass and Emma Eberlein, who highlights the presence of plastic in our seas by creating jewellery using small treasures washed up around St Agnes. Emma also paints beautiful images of island wildlife, such as agapanthas, on driftwood.

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Aside from our scrappy old camping kitchen, pallets and other waste wood have been used to create furniture for homes and businesses throughout the island. Waste items have also been used to build boats and convert old buildings. And, of course, the cats needed a playstation!


Back home at Spike Island I’m looking for inspiration from our floating community. Examples are dotted all over the harbour and we are seeking stories and photographs to share with the public. In partnership with the Underfall Boatyard, sound designer Elizabeth Purnell and BLINK Giant Media we propose to turn the yard’s information kiosk about their ‘adaptive re-use’ renovation into an occassional ‘story-telling hut’ in September and October 2015. Banners will show examples of ingenious ways in which boaters have re-used- they often have to make-do and mend while afloat- and voices of re-users will emanate from the kiosk.

We’re also inviting you to make tiny boats from corks and waste wood from the yard for a magnificent mini-flotilla in the Autumn.


We hope to inspire land lubbers to re-make some broken stuff instead of buying new- pretend everything arrives and leaves your home by boat!

To find out more and get involved in any of our activities ‘like’ us on facebook or e-mail

Ten Steps Beyond the Line

Imagine if we literally took ten steps beyond a flood line. How much damage to homes and amenities could be prevented? In Bristol ten steps away from our tidal waters would make a massive difference. We don’t have the capacity to physically do this, but we can offer news of ten steps towards greater flood awareness and resilience. We hope you enjoy, join in and share!

HighWaterLine Bristol is an amazing international arts project, helping us to visualise and build resilience to flood risk


1 .Telling the HighWaterLine Story 

There are ideas brewing among some of our documenters about how to exhibit our wonderful photos, videos and audio and tell the story in new and exciting ways. Ideas include films long, short and 3D exhibitions, in community centres and galleries along the line. We also want to Bristol as a gallery with giant photos and messages about flood risk displayed on the outside buildings. We are seeking funding, sponsorship or in kind donations to make these projects happen!

Cumberland Piazza through river water by Rachel Mason
Cumberland Piazza through river water by Rachel Mason

In the meantime a UWE second year photography student, Rachel Mason, has been inspired by the line to create a unique story, ‘This photobook is my interpretation of the line, its connection to the land and my personal journey along it. With the feeling of being submerged underwater, my images carry on this conversation providing a different understanding of the purpose the line holds’.

 2. Uncovering Hidden waters- community flood defence idea

The wonderful folk of Ashton have plans to re-open the Colliters Brook below Greville Smyth Park. They used HighWaterLine to start talking about it and to meet UWE engineers to help them understand what was possible. “Re-opening Colliters Brook as it runs through Greville Smyth Park has many potential benefits. It could create a new habitat for wildlife and improve the appearance of the park, but more importantly it could also provide a sustainable drainage system that could help mitigate against the risk of flood caused by more frequent and intense periods of heavy rain. We’ve been making contacts with local people, Earthed, residents of Bower Ashton Terrace and the Boys Football club. We’ve also had a positive response back from Wessex Water about the possibility of opening the pumping stations for tours next year to coincide with our event in the park focusing on the possibility of re-opening Colliters Brook” Matt Symonds.

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Chalking Greville Smythe Park by Richard Clutterbuck

 3. Walking & Talking Brislington’s Flood History

In Brislington, volunteers uncovered so much local history and interesting stories that we didn’t manage to highlight all of them with the HighWaterLine, so Rob, Susan, Tony and Izzy are looking at the possibility of doing a history storytelling event about the 1968 floods, possibly in conjunction with Bristol Walking festival in May



4. Defending Hotwells & the City Centre

Hotwells & Cliftonwood Community Association AGM with Bristol City Council Flood risk team presented HighWaterLine and flood resilience measures in Hotwells on 18th November 2014 to an audience of nearly 50 people. What effects Hotwells impacts the centre of the city, and members of the public had many questions including why we drew the line where we did,  rumours of proposals for a barrage in the Avon and whether lowering the harbour level to increase capacity would increase current defences..

River reaching Avon crescent by Anna Wilson

5. Working with authorities about community engagement

Anna and Izzy have been enlisted to share the story of the project with the Environment Agency, both locally and nationally, in an effort to introduce new creative dimensions to their community engagement. We’re planning presentations and producing an evaluation based on feedback from participants, authorities, community organisations and the general public. We also continue to communicate with Bristol City Council Flood Risk Team and urge others to do the same.

6. Sharing with other communities at flood risk
Izzy and Anna are working with the global HighWaterLine coordinators on a community guide for inspiring others to do mark their own HighWaterLine, based on what we’ve learned in New York, Miami, Bristol and Philadelphia. The guide is designed to accompany training for communities.

highwaterline miami

7. Ensuring a Future future for HighWaterLine Bristol

Some of our HWL community have come forward to help be part of a ‘core group’ who will look after and nurture steps beyond the line. We are having our first get together in January to discuss the future of community flood resilience in Bristol.IMG_9137

8.Increasing the HighWaterLine profile

Izzy was shortlisted as Bristol Green Volunteer Co-ordinator of the year by the Bristol Green Volunteer Awards!

A short film made by i say Raar for Invisible Dust, about HighWaterLine is now showing at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London, attracting an international audience!

Greenwich by Paul Haydock-Wilson

9. Funding cities at risk- Resilient Miami gets huge grant

And talking of international, the community members behind HighWaterLine Miami just secured a grant to collaborate with other Miami groups to build community resiliency to extreme storms and sea-level rise fueled by climate change. Well done to them across the pond!

10. Linking with research projects

So many West Country universities are exploring flood resilience and climate change adaptation and some people involved in HighWaterLine are partnering some of these. A great example is Seila Fernández Arconada and Prof Thorsten Wagener of the Water and Environmental Engineering Research group with Land of the Sumer People. More, please!

Many voluntary hours have helped achieve these ten steps, but to continue to support these amazing volunteers, we are seeking funding and sponsorship

HighWaterLine is a project open to all! If you want to get involved, ask further questions or anything else relevant, e-mail