Thames Discovery Programme family foreshore event

John Sage, Tideway CR Manager, on archaeology and engaging communities

MOLA team

We are delighted and extremely grateful to Tideway for giving a two year grant to fund a full-time community archaeologist for our award-winning Thames Discovery Programme. We are looking forward to working with Tideway to help to build the cultural and heritage legacy of the project and forge new connections with the community and the River Thames.

Here, John Sage Corporate Responsibility Manager at Tideway, shares his insights on how archaeology is helping one of the country’s largest infrastructure project to engage with the public.

Q. Tideway's Charities Committee receives numerous funding requests.  What made the Thames Discovery Programme eligible for funding? 

A. Tideway is delighted to be partnering with MOLA to support the expansion of the Thames Discovery Programme. As we construct the 16-mile tunnel from Acton in the West of London to near Stratford in the East we have a responsibility to respect and reflect the heritage of the Thames in the way we landscape our sites and the above-ground structures we leave behind once we have finished. We also need to engage with the public about the heritage of the Thames during the project and the Thames Discovery Programme’s work with communities fits very well with that. Also, as MOLA knew Tideway well as a result of its work with us on the archaeological aspects of our original planning application and now as the project’s main provider of archaeological services, as MOLA Headland Infrastructure. We knew that there was a natural ‘fit’ between us. Tideway’s support is effectively an investment that should allow TDP to further develop its capability to generate future funding through a strengthened educational service.         

Q.  As Tideway's Corporate Responsibility Manager why do you consider that it is important for large infrastructure projects to engage with their local communities?

A. Major infrastructure projects like ours need to talk to communities impacted by our work so that we can be a “good neighbour”. However, our desire to engage is about much more than that - we want to leave a lasting legacy for London, to deliver benefits beyond simply constructing the tunnel. We select our community partnerships so that we can see a long-term benefit and can help to realise our vision of “reconnecting London with the River Thames”. This is an ambitious vision and it means that we have to do a lot more with local communities than simply explaining to them what we are doing, or funding investments to mitigate our impact. In addition to this, residents attending our Community Liaison Working Groups have said they would like opportunities to be actively involved in the heritage aspects of the project. Our partnership with TDP makes this possible and strengthens our community relationships.

Q. How do you see MOLA's Thames Discovery project adding value to Tideway's key community engagement objectives and why do you consider archaeology is a particularly powerful medium to connect communities to the River?

A. I mentioned selecting community partnerships which help to realise our vision of reconnecting London – and Londoners - with the Thames. If you think about how the Thames Discovery Programme engages community groups, including physical engagement through sessions on the foreshore, and how it is opening up that engagement to  new groups, it fits that objective closely. Our funding will allow the extension of its current volunteer programme to create a new group of under 18 volunteers and this will ensure that children who are interested in archaeological discovery and recording have an outlet to pursue that passion, giving them a sense of connection with the river and bring together people with a shared interest from communities across London. Archaeology provides a tremendous combination of local, historical, educational and physical wellbeing factors that work together to connect people to the river.

Q. Why does Tideway think it is especially important to give younger generations these skills and to connect the history of our River of Liberty?

A. Tideway’s education programme is designed to encourage STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects and careers in order to meet the UK’s urgent need for engineering skills. The Thames Discovery Programme’s work in schools, in the classroom and on the foreshore, encourages children to develop not just historical appreciation but the analytical skills required to interpret what they see and find. This creates an excellent fit between the programme and our STEM aims.  

We think it is important that the younger generations are educated about the rich history of the river so that, in addition to the skills they acquire through archaeological study, they also gain an appreciation of how the river has been at the heart of London life through the centuries.

Q. How do you see the Thames Discovery Programme supporting Tideway's objective to leave a lasting legacy for future generations?

A. We have made more than 50 individual commitments to demonstrate our desire to leave a lasting legacy for London – under the themes of Environment, Health and Safety, Economy, People and Place. Our partnership helps to meet our People commitments to engage with schoolchildren as previously described, and our Place commitment to engage with the heritage of the Thames in both our landscaping and community engagement. We also have a specific commitment to develop community investments in order to leave a Legacy, and our pan-London investment in the Thames Discovery Programme complements our local community investments very well.  

Q. If you had to name one aspect of your role as Corporate Responsibility Manager of Tideway you most enjoy what would that be?

A. It has to be the variety of opportunities and partnerships that a project like Tideway offers, as it shows how a major infrastructure project can ‘raise the bar’ for running its operations and business responsibly. As a £4 billion project, the sheer number of approaches we get can create its own challenges, but our range of partnerships with organisations like the Thames  Discovery Programme, the environmental charity Thames 21, the Totally Thames festival, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and many others create so many ways of giving something back to local communities.

It also creates new personal experiences – these partnerships have led me to train as a leader of foreshore litter clean-ups, mentor London teenagers creating a community improvement programme in their local area, even learning paddle boarding. They say variety is the spice of life, and I certainly get that at Tideway!

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