Following the news of River Action’s expansion, we are delighted to welcome Harri Rose as our new Campaigns Coordinator. In our latest blog, we get an insight into her life, interests, and the role that she will play to help rescue Britain’s rivers.
Tell us about yourself…
I grew up in West Wales and had a pretty idyllic countryside childhood. I’m part of the last generation of kids that remembered life pre-internet and its introduction. My Dad worked in agriculture, selling farming machinery in my family’s business, and so I’ve always been aware of the price of milk and where our food comes from. As a teenager, me and my friends would bunk off school to build bonfires on the beaches. I feel incredibly privileged to have these memories and to have had the appreciation for nature early on before it was filled with the grief and climate anxiety I have now around the degradation of our ecosystems.
My whole family is political and my Mum was a big CND campaigner, it’s her influence on me that has made me a campaigner. I’ve wanted to make a positive difference in the world ever since I went to my first protest (against the Iraq war). I studied International Development at Uni and after graduating, I went into the charity sector where I spent almost a decade working in London as a fundraiser and campaigner. I had four very happy years at Fairtrade in their Campaigns team.
Like many people, during the pandemic I had time to think about what I wanted my life to look like. At the time, I was volunteering in a small market garden in Frome called Vallis Veg, which is on a farm owned by Chris Smaje, the author of A Small Farm Future. I loved having my hands in the soil and the experience had a profound impact on me. The Head Grower, Ellis, taught me how precarious the foundation of the whole food system is and about corporate control over UK seeds – a problem I had naively associated purely with those in the Global South. I had secured a place to study for an MA in Food Anthropology at Exeter University, and for my dissertation I focused on the UK Seed Sovereignty Network. Some issues I feel strongly about are land worker’s rights, the right to roam, and helping people understand that humans *are* part of nature, not separate from it.
How did you become involved/interested in river protection?
In 2018, I joined Extinction Rebellion and was one of the founding members of Southampton’s local group. I thought I knew how bad the climate crisis was but I had my eyes opened and I couldn’t believe that everyone wasn’t up in arms at the impending crisis. This was when my campaigning began to shift to focus on environmental and human rights issues. Rivers specifically came into focus for me in 2020 when I was living in Frome. Frome is in a gorgeous area which has a lot of wild swimming spots. During the hot summer, my housemate and I found a beautiful river bank and started to go regularly. My partner, who had an Environmental Science background was reluctant to join us because of his knowledge of water pollution and that’s when I started to learn more about how bad the state of the UK rivers are. Once I learned the facts I also didn’t want to go in, and that made me very sad and also angry. It also made me fear for the health of the local kids I saw jumping in and playing by the waters and my nieces who love playing in the sea. When I was a child, me and brother both had kayaks and we would paddle down the river Teifi while my parents walked alongside on the path. I don’t think I’d allow my kids to do the same in the river’s current state.
Tell us about the campaign work you’ve done before. What’s been your favourite campaign you’ve worked on?
I’ve dressed up as a Fairtrade banana more times than I can remember! However, every campaign where I got to meet a Fairtrade farmer were the best ones. Before you start your day you’ve likely eaten or drunk something grown by a smallholder farmer somewhere in the Global South. Someone who rarely gets thought about because their produce is so every day. Seeing school children, or community groups, asking questions to Yana, a female coffee farmer from Sumatra or Patrick, a Kenyan tea farmer, you can tell that it’s having a profound impact on those people. People think that Fairtrade is accomplished now because they see the Fairtrade Mark in shops but sadly, only a small fraction of trade is fair. I also organised Extinction Rebellion Southampton’s Declaration Day where we did a huge banner drop over the 1st floor of the local shopping centre above the main space below. It was right at the start of the campaign when no one had heard of XR, it was an exciting time.
You are also Co-Director of Anti Diet Riot Club. Tell us about that!
Yes, I’ve had a whole accidental career in body positivity and social justice. Anti Diet Riot Club is a social enterprise (Community Interest Community) run by myself and Becky Young. It is a rebellious community that comes together to counter diet culture, fatphobia and the injustices of weight stigma. There’s a huge correlation between dieting and eating disorders as well as weight and social determinants of health, like poverty on food choices for example. Unfortunately, the messaging around weight is rarely that nuanced with most emphasis being around personal responsibility and fatphobia affects many marginalised folks. The beauty standard is a racist, ableist, fatphobic, heteronormative means of oppression that keeps millions of people distracted and unhappy unnecessarily, and sadly, it’s impacting children younger and younger.
I have a personal disordered history of dieting throughout my teens and twenties that impacted my mental health. (Being a teenager in the 90s with ‘heroin chic’ was incredibly rough for body esteem!) There’s now tons of research showing that dieting negatively impacts mental health and diets simply doesn’t work as they promise. The vast majority of people dieting will regain the weight (or more) within 3 to 5 years due to the hormonal, metabolic and neurological changes that are a product of restriction. What’s needed is a weight inclusive holistic view of health.
Anti Diet Riot Club runs events both on and offline from art workshops to talks and joyful movement classes. We also put on the first body positive festival in the UK. We have a global online community and crowdfunded £17,000 to build a mobile ‘riot bus’. Just imagine what change could be done in the world with all the collective energy people put into trying to hit an arbitrary number on a scale. Although Anti Diet Riot Club is no longer my main focus in life, its mission is still something very dear to my heart. I do it for my younger self and all the young people needing someone to fight their corner.
Tell us about your new role as RA campaigns coordinator… What can we expect to see from your role in 2023?
I’m very inspired and excited about the work we have coming up in 2023 and my role as Campaign Coordinator. I’ll be working closely with Amy to create campaigns that continue to put pressure on the government to clean up our rivers. With elections coming up, I’ll be supporting the policy and advocacy side of the organisation to ensure that rivers are high up on the political agenda. I’m particularly looking forward to the launch of the Charter for Rivers as well as developing a campaign specifically for the South West, which is where I live. Expect locally supported, data driven campaigns with the fun, playful and creative flare expected from River Action
In your opinion, what is further needed/what needs to change in order to rescue Britain’s rivers?
It gives me a lot of fire in my belly to see the growing call from the public to rescue Britain’s rivers. We need to continue to build pressure at grassroot level to force the government to take meaningful action. We need better governance with better legislation, massively improved infrastructure and evidence based environmental policy that shifts focus onto river recovery and away from profit motivation. There is a lot of work to do if we’re to save the freshwater ecosystem on which we all rely. However, I would describe myself as a belligerent optimist. If we have active hope that includes collaborative action, then we still have a chance. Even in the face of such adversity, there’s still so much worth fighting for.