ArtZone Co-Op

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Working with the River Police to promote Safety around Water

Children from Thorntree Primary School in South London had a great adventure on 12 July 2011. They travelled across the great River Thames to the Metropolitan River Police HQ in Wapping where they were treated to a speed boat ride along the River and fun and games in the local park. A “reward” for their participation in the Wapping River Police’s ‘Water Safety’ project.

The ‘Be Safe’ project

This invaluable project was initiated a couple of years ago by PC Robin Locker, a river boat policeman working at Wapping’s River Police station. Robin devised a programme which enabled the River Police to work with local primary schools which drew the children’s attention to possible dangers around rivers, lakes and ponds and taught them how to be safe in these environments. The project programme includes an illustrated talk about safety around water given to the children by one of the team’s Police officers - after the talk the children are invited to take part in a “poster competition” on the theme of being “Safe around Water”.

The children produce a painting or drawing on any of the issues or elements they remember from the talk: the river, landscape, police boat, safety belts, sign posts... The police team select their favourite picture and ask ArtZone to transform into poster and print it to A3 size image. The ‘prize winning poster’ is then distributed around all the local schools. Not only is this a very special accolade for the young artist it also helps promote the issue of safety to other children. As well as a poster competition, the prize winner along with their class mates, are invited for a presentation “day out” at Wapping River Police HQ, where the winner and school is presented with a framed copy of the poster and a very special and unforgettable ‘speedy’ trip along the River Thames in a river police patrol boat.

The visit to Wapping River Police’s HQ gives the children an opportunity to learn about another side of police work which they would rarely get to see; tasks ranging from ‘traffic control’ to preventing criminal activity, working with the customs and excise services, preventing or solving crimes, or assisting the Life Guard services if any accidents happen on the river, they River Police museum packed full of the history of police work on the River Thames going back a couple of centuries to the beginning of the 1800’s.

Although the central purpose of the project is to teach children about the dangers around water it also introduces them to ways of keeping safe and not being afraid of water. As most of the children live in boroughs which share a ‘coast line’ with the Thames or have rivers leading into the Thames the police felt that local children should know how to enjoy the river and waterways - especially as the river Thames, although beautiful to look at, is a treacherous length of tidal river. It is also an exciting river with lots of traffic and, although now cleaner than it has been in the past, it is still polluted with effluence, mud and algae - not a good place to swim in. Also nearby the Thames are many smaller rivers, canals and dock areas which since the demise of the inaccessible working dock areas are now open to everyone - places that are particularly attractive play areas for children. The “Be Safe around Water” project’s intention is not to instill fear into children about water - it is the opposite and the programme the River Police have devised encourages children to enjoy their rivers, lakes and ponds.

Wapping River Police now have a small team, all of whom drive the boats and patrol the river, who can speak directly to young children about how to behave around water, how to recognise dangers and what to do if accidents happen. They encourage children not to be afraid, if needs be, to shout out loud for help, to recognise signage icons near waterways, and watch out for the danger signals of rising tides, slippery steps and walkways. The key messages given by the police is to instill into children to behave sensibly around water and encourage them to learn how to swim.

The children’s excitement mingled with nervousness about the whole day’s events: travelling across London on the new ‘Overground Railway’, a formal prize giving event, a Police boat trip was a day to remember. Some anxieties about travelling far and nervousness about the nearness of the river rapidly disappeared within the protective care of the marine police. At the end of the afternoon some of the children were planning their future careers as River Police officers.

In the current environment of cuts to services it would be a crime if this project is jeopardised. For London Boroughs that share a Thames coast line it is an imperative that everyone - especially children - should know how to remain safe nearby water.