Beginnings of the DollisBrookers…

DollisBrookers were born initially from three coincidences: a move from North Finchley (where a walk to the Brook was an occasional outing) to Finchley Central – where it could easily take place every day; watching a short video on Rivers as Teachers https://vimeo.com/501219183 (there are also longer versions) and a meeting of the Barnet Climate Action group, which supported the idea.

Surely, however, such a ‘friends of’ already existed? It seemed not. There is the well, long established (1997) Friends of Windsor Open Space (https://fowos.wordpress.com/about/) and the more recent https://darlandsconservationtrust.org.uk, but no group cares for the whole length of the stream, from its source in Moat Mount until it merges with Mutton Brook to become the River Brent.

As an inveterate Twitterer, the place to begin was with tweets and quickly others followed (100 now). A note in NextDoor also caught people’s attention and another 60 joined. But what were we actually going to do?

Litter and dog fouling were obviously immediate concerns and a group of us, with Tony Sarchet in the forefront, began to plan when and how our first litter-pick might take place. But there were obviously immediate issues: where do the tools come from – bin bags, litter-pickers, ring holders? And though such an expedition should be relatively simple, perhaps a little experience would help. How could we learn?

Three groups appeared almost instantaneously when they ‘followed’ in the Twitter feed: the SilkStreamers, who had been doing exactly that work on the other side of the Borough (Edgware, Colindale) for two years; the WelshHarpies, who’d been working on the giant and sometimes beautiful (but rubbish infested) reservoir by the North Circular for a similar length of time and Thames21 https://www.thames21.org.uk.

Why 21? The first UN Earth Summit of 1992, set up Agenda21 and Thames21 was born then to support the river catchments which fed into the Thames and so help cleanse London’s river. “Leading Action for Healthy Rivers: Thames21’s flagship training course” provides all the necessary theoretical knowledge and, once accredited, insurance cover is provided for all registered ‘litter-picks’.

But litter-pick is only the start.

Really our concern is the living health of the river and all dependent upon it – plants, insects, birds, and wild-life as well as us human beings, since we are made up of around 60% water ourselves and need it every day for our lives.

Almost instantaneously, one contact led to another. The third group (mentioned earlier – you may by now have forgotten!) was Barnet Borough Council. Matt Gunyon, its open spaces and leisure officer, was extremely helpful and supportive and agreed to provide all necessary equipment.

Of course, even from the beginning there were challenges – a particularly disturbing one was the understandable distress of a family whose neighbour in Hendon was renting out a large strip of land that he owned bordering the Brook and behind their house as a car, caravan and children’s party double decker bus park – entirely unsuitable for the area and an eyesore. Would we assist in the interests of nature preservation? At this stage, it seemed a worthy cause but one that could sap all our energy, however sympathetic we might be. First, we needed to build our strength.

In this regard, Feargal Sharkey, once lead vocalist of the punk rock band the Undertones and a keen angler, played a key role. He had long been a fervent national advocate of cleaning our rivers and lived locally. Walking with him along the Brook and meeting together at Darlands with the chair of https://darlandsconservationtrust.org.uk made it clear that this was an exciting long term project – ten years, just as a start!

Fortunately, generous help was all around! Andy Savage, once Chair of Stephen’s House and Gardens, knew all about funding and revenue. He’d raised a substantial amount from the Heritage Lottery fund but warned we’d need a proper business plan. It became obvious that a small steering group with a variety of skills would be essential, from looking after social media, to PR and leaflets, admin and finance, as well as botany and biology teachers who could spark our enthusiasms to learn more and more about every aspect of this wonderful world of Dollis Brook which the lockdown was bringing to the forefront of attention of so many of us for the first time. And so we began to put together what we hoped might be the beginnings of a group.

Jeffrey Newman

12 April 2021

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