Anglian Water Education Officer Richard Park gives an insight into his work with schoolchildren across our region
Whenever I get asked what I do for a job, I have two responses. The long answer is, I spend my time in the community, mainly in schools, trying to change people’s behaviours, to be more water efficient and sewerwise. The short answer is I spend a lot of time talking about poo and wee.
The majority of my time is spent in primary schools across the region; it is amazing to find there are still children who leave the tap on when they brush their teeth and, shockingly, a large number of parents according to their children. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall of parents evenings following one of our visits as children have described their parents’ water habits – leaving the tap on, deep baths, singing badly in the shower for far too long.
We also look at how we fit into the wider water cycle and the fact that the water we use and drink has been used before. The reaction to their friend having used it is someone muted, the Queen excited and Donald Trump brings widespread laughter.
We then move onto looking at sewage, the things that are put down our drains on a daily basis and the problems that are caused. I open with a bottle of fat which nicely demonstrates how it sticks to the edge of our pipes. Moving on through food, washing powder and tea we reach the bathroom. Two cups of slightly different shades of yellow appear, everyone in the room knows what it is but doesn’t quite know whether to say it out loud. Once a child has brilliantly described why one is hydrated and the other dehydrated for the rest of the day the class teacher will have children going off to the toilet and reporting back the colour of their wee. Then comes the poo and how we recycle it. A class a couple of weeks ago spontaneously broke into song at this point singing The Circle of Poo to the tune of The Circle of Life from The Lion King. I am never going to hear that song in the same way again.
Cotton bud sticks and baby wipes cause so many problems throughout the network. I have heard countless stories of parents not only flushing cotton buds down the toilet but pushing them through the plug hole in their sinks. Showing that baby wipes don’t break up easily shocks many, especially the adults in the room. The knowledge some of them have often surprises me, descriptions of nappies and wipes blocking pipes are common place. The question of what happens to goldfish in the pipes, whether they are a problem and whether we find them at the other end is a common theme.
All this is aimed at changing behaviours, and for the children to raise the conversation at home. I was recently approached by a parent the day after a visit to find that her daughter had indeed explained in great detail the pretend sewage she had made that day in school and that many children did believe that the wee and poo were ‘real’ (I am not allowed for obvious reasons to hand children ‘real’ wee and poo in the classroom). There are a couple of schools I have been back to over a number of years. Recently I spoke to a group that I had seen two years previously who could still recount who hadn’t turned the tap off when they brushed their teeth, as well as the ingredients we added to make sewage, they even recognized the famous bottle of fat.
This year the team is celebrating 10 years and inviting students back to an event at Chelmsford Education Centre in September. If students who have visited in those first few years would like to visit please contact the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.