In 2014, on the final day of an international programme called Coastal Communities 2150 on sea level rise, I walked on stage with a baton made of english sycamore, beautifully turned by Caroline Dorling of Lewes.
(cs of baton annotated with the following information or text left as it is)
4 central rings represented the Netherlands, UK, Belgium and France – the 4 countries that took part in Coastal Communities 2150.
Three other rings represented Lewes, Newhaven and Seaford and nine other thinner rings represented the villages along the Ouse plus a lonely feint ring for the lost village of Tidemills.
The baton contained a message for 13 young people from Priory School, Lewes and Ringmer Community College. They formed up on stage and after handing over the baton, one of them opened it and read the following message to the 200 delegates:
‘The partners of the Coastal Communities 2150 Conference held in Brighton on the 12th February 2014, during a period of intense storms in the United Kingdom, wish the first group of pupils to volunteer for a sea level rise youth project, destined to last for 150 years, the best of luck, wisdom, integrity and determination to learn from the project as sea levels rise.’ (possibly in bold?)
Since then, a further 31 young people have voluntarily given their time attending master classes by the Environment Agency and the East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service. Each two-year stint ends with a challenge inside the baton being passed on to the next group of RATS. (Insert photos of baton being passed between all groups)
In addition to learning of the role of the East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service, how to protect properties and why flooding is increasing, the RATS have run several projects which have featured in the local press. These have included putting together a presentation of some of the flood defences in Lewes including the Tesco car park wall that has foundations strong enough to support the raising of the wall in due course. They also learned about flooding on the Railway Land and designed a scheme, with the help of FNR Plant hire, to help reduce the erosion of a path from floodwater. They also devised their own distinctive logo, (add RATS logo) and this year, have created flood information bookmarks for schools and libraries as well as a video, now on the official Environment Agency website, of a personal possession they would save in a flood.
Said former RAT Daisy Willats, ‘I had a brilliant time socialising with different people and learning new skills, working with professional people and feeling that I was making a difference.’
Chris Janes, Flood Resilience Engagement Advisor at the Environment Agency added, ‘I have been so impressed at the dedication, hard work and enthusiasm of these young people. They will likely witness extraordinary events in their lifetimes with the issue of increased flood risk with climate change and I am sure these sessions will help them and others come up with ways to prepare, act and survive’
The latest challenge from the third group of RATS to the newly formed 4th group stated, ‘We want you to collaborate with Graham Festenstein to help organise and design a flooding display for the Lewes Light Festival in February 2020.’
And that is now underway! Helped by artist, Michelle Dufaur, the RATS are working on a display to be projected on a river wall in Lewes. (photo of RATS working with Michelle on 5th December). They will also contribute to a commentary of a digital fly-through of the lower Ouse valley showing how it would look with higher sea levels in their lifetime. This will be shown at the Linklater Pavilion which will also feature a major installation by Maggie Lambert in the Undercroft.
Young people’s voices need to be heard but also backed with actions supported by adults and we are proud of the voluntary contribution made by the RATS over the last 5 years. This has been supported, again voluntarily, by teachers Lawrence Quinn from Priory and Cath Cardin from Ringmer Academy.
The notion of a 150 year education project on sea level rise with a baton being passed from one group of young people to the next every two years seemed a somewhat ambitious idea in 2014 but so far young people have embraced the idea with enthusiasm and hope while at the same time gaining an understanding of the reality with which they will be faced.
Each year brings a new perspective and opportunity for a contribution to their community and this year’s LewesLight Festival has caught their imagination and impressed Graham Festenstein its Director, ‘I’m really pleased to have an opportunity to be working with the RATS and to help them to promote these important issues. This year’s LewesLight explores environmental themes including sea level rise due to global warming and climate change and the RATS have contributed significantly to some of our work. It’s great that young people are tackling these issues and we are delighted to be able to give them a platform.’ •