The River Thames is one of the greatest natural wonders of our nation.
But anyone who has walked the Thames Path through east London will know how frustrating it is — blocked by 1980s residential developments or old wharfs with razor-wire fences. For each obstacle, we have to walk around onto a main road, then jump back onto the path further along.
Then I saw an ornamental walkway in Shadwell and realised we could have a solution. If the buildings can’t be moved — and the landowners won’t open the way — maybe it would be possible to extend the path onto the river, with a walkway on stilts, swerving each obstacle and creating a continuous Thames Path.
We could walk or cycle for miles without ever having to leave the river.
I made a film to explain the concept and got such a positive response, I decided to start a campaign. Reclaim Our River was born.
In April 2022 I got a grant from Tower Hamlets to work one day per week on the campaign. Together with a collection of local residents we have been mapping all the obstacles and have set up a website and social media.
Mostly we have been looking at the easier obstacles to overcome. For example, in the Isle of Dogs the Skysports Heliport blocks the path in a really inconvenient place. The heliport is only 10m wide, but the diversion onto the main road and back onto the path via an estate is a half-mile walk. Heliports tend to be on rivers because that is their flight path, but there is only a landing here a couple of times per week.
The council has spoken to the heliport owners and are now consulting on a traffic light system for the path to remain open when there is no landing, and close when needed (like Tower Bridge when a ship comes through). This change alone would open up the whole three-four miles of the Isle of Dogs, with only a couple of minor diversions in other places.
We want more people involved with Reclaim Our River. For instance, we could do with volunteers to help organise walks. And we really need to find a company with a print room who can supply us with leaflets as a donation in kind. Simply signing up as a supporter helps. The bigger the numbers we have, the more influence we exert.
We’ve only just got started, but our local London Assembly Member Unmesh Desai is on board and is looking to organise a site visit with the Mayor of London’s team, writing official questions that Sadiq Khan will have to answer publicly.
We are creating the most exciting regeneration scheme in London and turning it from a vague vision into a tangible proposal that politicians can get behind.
It’s a slow slog but the Thames is most dramatic and historic natural visitor attraction we have and it’s totally for free. It’s our river and we are entitled to have access.
Where the industrial economy of the past has faded, the recreational economy of the future needs to begin. Reclaim Our River aims to make this a reality.