The festival was established back in 1997 by Adrian Evans, who remains its director today. While there’s no annual theme to Totally Thames, there are two key messages Adrian and his team hope audiences take away from this year’s festival. ‘One is to value water. We’re so lucky to have clean water only the switch of a tap away,’ he says. ‘Looped into that is the issue around pollution – particularly plastic pollution – which is a real issue for the river, marine life and ultimately for us, because it goes into the food chain. Hopefully we’ll see a reduction in the amount of plastic being chucked into the river.’
With this in mind, here are the highlights to catch in this year’s Totally Thames festival.
The Ship of Tolerance
WHEN: 4 September – 6 October
WHERE: River Thames by Tate Modern
The Ship of Tolerance (pictured above) is a celebration of diversity by acclaimed artists Ilya and Emilia Kabakov. The patchwork sails of the 60-foot long, hand-crafted wooden ship have been made by children from London primary schools, Great Ormond Street Hospital, and refugee centres in the UK and Calais. First launched in Egypt in 2005, the Ship of Tolerance has since been recreated in cities across the world. But it feels very of-the-moment in London this autumn, in a year that’s seen children across the UK get actively involved in protesting against climate change.
Adrian says: We worked with over 50 schools, arts organisations and refugee groups to design the sails of the ship, and the theme that came up across all of them was tolerance. You get this overwhelming sense of young people being active, positive agents in the way in which they see their future.
Foragers of the Foreshore
WHEN: 25 - 29 September, 11AM - 6PM
WHERE: Bargehouse, Barge House Street, London SE1 9PH
For many returning visitors to Totally Thames, the opportunity to dabble in the world of London’s mudlarking community – who scour the river beds in search of historical artefacts – is what keeps them coming back. This year, not only can guests have a go at mudlarking themselves, they can look around a very special exhibition curated by art historian and local mudlarker Florence Evans, which showcases the community’s most incredible finds.
Adrian says: This exhibition shows the best work by London’s amateur archaeologists and obsessive collectors. Whether it’s a shard of pottery or a bead, each one of these items is like a portal into the past and in looking at them, you feel like it could be your past. We have to think about whether what we’re discarding at the moment – plastic in particular – is going to be valued in 150 years time. Today's rubbish is tomorrow’s heritage; if it’s just damaging the environment, we shouldn’t be leaving it.
Moonlight Mudlarking on the Thames
WHEN: 28 & 29 September, 7:30PM - 9:30PM
WHERE: Outside Shakespeare's Globe, 21 New Globe Walk, London SE1 9DT
The teams behind the Illuminated River light installation project and Thames Festival are teaming up with ‘Thames pirate’ Steve Brooker to take visitors on a guided mudlarking adventure by moonlight. Scour the Thames foreshore after dark and see what treasures you find.
The Big Bottle Count
WHEN: 24 September, time depends on tides
WHERE: 18 different locations along the Thames
Join Thames21 and the #OneLess bottle campaign at one of 18 locations along the Thames, where you’ll be counting and removing discarded bottles in a bid to rid the river of plastic. Last year, roughly 3,400 were collected during the event. How many will be found this time?
The Barking Stink
WHEN: 24 August - 5 October
WHERE: Valence House Museum, Becontree Avenue, Dagenham RM8 3HT
Head to Valence House Museum in Dagenham for a nosedive into what has caused Barking’s riverside to stink over the past 200 years. From the fragrance of thriving fisheries to the stench of the sewage works, the exhibition explores the smells and pongs that tell the story of Barking’s industrial past.
Adrian says: Barking had a reputation for being one of the smelliest places on the Thames. We want to give people living there, particularly young people, pride in its history.
WHEN: 29 September, 8am
WHERE: Meeting points in Hammersmith and Greenwich
New to Totally Thames this year, Regatta London invites guests to board their float of choice – be it a kayak, boat or paddle board – and race for an environmental cause. Two routes are available: The London Crossing (a 12-mile paddle starting near Hammersmith and finishing in Greenwich), and The Big Ben Challenge (a 14-mile looped course from Putney to Big Ben and back). Both stretches of the Thames are being cleared of non-racing boats for the event and the Thames Barrier is being closed, meaning paddlers won’t end up battling against the tide.
Adrian says: Expect an ‘everybody get on the river’ vibe from this new participatory regatta.
WHEN: 19 September, 7:30PM - 11:15PM
WHERE: Dixie Queen, Tower Pier, Lower Thames Street, EC3N 4DT
The Mid-River Milonga is a chance to tango down the Thames in style aboard the Dixie Queen, a luxuriously-decorated replica of a 19th century paddle steamer. Tango under the stars to a live soundtrack performed by UK-based tango band Tango Siempre, and take in the monuments, historic buildings and famous sites dotted along this stretch of the Thames as you go.
Adrian says: It’s going to be a tango on the Thames! We hope people come and dance.
WHEN: 15 September, 1PM - 1:45PM
WHERE: The Scoop at More London, SE1 2AA
The 400-strong Kids’ Choir is a returning favourite event of Totally Thames festival. This year is no different and on 15 September, children from primary schools across London are coming together to sing in front of the River Thames in a concert conducted by Richard Frostick. The Kids’ Choir concert is being followed with a performance by Sing for Water - a collective of 500 singers from all over the country - and both concerts are raising money for WaterAid.
Adrian says: The Kids’ Choir has raised over a million pounds for WaterAid to date. We’re so proud that as a small charity Totally Thames can help other charities do their work.
Bascule Chamber Concerts
WHEN: 18 - 22 September
WHERE: South Bascule Chamber, Tower Bridge, Tower Bridge Road, London SE1 2UP
Head into the belly of Tower Bridge for a night of contemporary music, curated by sound artist and composer Iain Chambers. Hear new music and poetry surrounded by feats of Victorian engineering. Art Historian Dan Cruickshank is also giving a talk about the architecture and surrounding history of Tower Bridge.
Something for everyone...
With a programme featuring over 100 events spanning the arts, the environment and even the sporting world, you can walk away from the festival having had a totally different experience to other attendees. But that’s part of the magic of Totally Thames and also part of the point: it’s a festival that aims to get Londoners to consciously consider the river that runs through their city. 'We try to engage with the river in all its facets,' says Adrian. 'We hope the festival will inspire people to respect and love it more. We want it to be an ever-increasing part of the core fabric of London.'
|What||Totally Thames 2019: festival highlights to catch this year|
01 Sep 19 – 30 Sep 19, Times vary for specific events
|Price||£ depends on event|
|Website||Click here for more information|