Tales from the River project outline


Tales from the River will involve young people and adults in gathering and celebrating past and present stories and folklore about recreation in, on or by the Breckland rivers and other waters, including oral history and gathering a variety of media (especially about swimming and other watery activities). This will all be compiled and presented in a variety of ways, including an exhibition, a film and storytelling, and will be archived. It will also inform and be informed by other projects including Healing Waters, which will engage people in healthy outdoor watery activities with training to enjoy the waters safely and with care for theenvironment.

These two projects are part of a wider set of projects, The Brecks Fen Edge & Rivers Landscape Partnership Scheme (BFER), supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The project area, Breckland, is in Suffolk and Norfolk. The project will run 2020-2024.

Reasons for the project

The rivers and other water bodies have always been very important in Breckland, a very dry area with hot summers. There is a rich tradition of swimming and other water-based recreation across the generations, and we hope to uncover many memories, old photos and films, stories and folklore about these activities.

Although young people have carried on the tradition of flocking to local swimming spots in the rivers in the summer, many people have lost the knowledge and confidence to do so, and myths and fears – some exaggerated – have taken their place. The places people go to swim and enjoy the water have always been those to which they have access, often associated with footpaths and bridleways, places of baptism, ferries, mills and old ponds.

We need to celebrate this heritage, and also to look at current attitudes and – in conjunction with other projects such as Healing Waters – to revive and to continue into the future our connection with the water in the Breckland landscape.

Purpose and aims

• To train adults and young people in archive research, oral history interviewing and related skills, manipulating digital photographs, and to train young people in compiling and presenting material, storytelling and making films
• To uncover the heritage of swimming and other river-based recreation in the past and present, by gathering memories, stories and folklore, photos and film
• To understand and celebrate the heritage and traditions of swimming and other watery activities
• To connect us to this important aspect of the Breckland landscape
• To engage adults and young people, and to enable them to put across fun, informative and useful messages about safety, environmental care and how to have fun when swimming and enjoying our waterways
• To inform the Healing Waters project on the places, heritage and attitudes

Topics and themes to research and discuss
History, traditions, memories, stories, folklore, and attitudes then and now
Outdoor swimming and other watery recreation, including jumping, diving, paddling, playing in water, picnicking, boating, fishing, walking, running, camping…
How to have fun whilst being safe and environmentally conscious

Training, activities and output

  1. Adult strand
    The project will train a group of volunteers in archive research, oral history interviewing, and photo digitising and editing. They will carry out archive research and oral history interviewing, and will aim to discover old photographs and cine film. They will produce summaries and extracts of the oral history and archive research, and will digitise and edit photographs where needed. In addition, cine films will be digitised and extracts made, and transcripts will be made of the oral history interviews.

The material uncovered by the volunteer group will be compiled and relevant material shared with other strands of the project and other projects (including Healing Waters). It will be presented in a variety of ways and it will be archived.

2. Youth Groups

The project will work with partner groups (such as Girlguiding, the Ancient House Teenage History Group, Scouts, ATC) over the first three years, with different groups taking part at different stages to come up with a variety of outputs. This will enable the involvement of the maximum range and numbers of young people.

Youth groups will carry out research, oral history interviewing, and gather photographs and other materials. Some will prepare, compile and launch an exhibition, and produce educational material and activities. Some youth groups will work with a storyteller to learn how to prepare and perform, and will perform their stories at an event, and some will work with a filmmaker to make and launch a film.

Relevant material uncovered by the youth groups will be shared with other strands of the project and other projects (including Healing Waters).

3. Events and Presentation

The professional storyteller will use material prepared while working with the youth groups, to perform at a number of events.
Cine film gathered will be digitised and extracts used in other strands of the project.
The project will inform and work with the Healing Waters project in designing signage and educational and other materials
In addition to the outputs by the youth groups (exhibition, storytelling event, film), the project will present the material in appropriate formats, including documents, website, etc.
All relevant material will be archived.


The project will run 2020-2024
(though most activities will take place it in the first three years)

Year 1 (2020)
archive research training – adult
oral history training – adult
photo editing training – adult
Archives tours/training

buy recording equipment etc

Start archive research – adults
Start oral history interviewing – adults
3 interviews – adults


Archive research training – youth
oral history training – youth
photo editing training – youth

exhibition training – youth
compile exhibition – youth
launch exhibition – youth

archive research – youth
oral history interviewing – youth

Year 2 (2021)
Continue archive research – adults
continue oral history interviewing – adults
6 interviews – adults

Storytelling training – youth (Sept/Oct/Nov)
Storytelling performing – youth (Nov/Dec)

storyteller events – 1

Year 3 (2022)
continue and finish archive research – adults
continue and finish oral history interviewing – adults
6 interviews – adults

film training, making a film – youth (mainly summer hols)

storyteller events – 4 (one at a beer festival, possibly Judes Ferry)

Year 4 (2023)
cinefilm digitising

Year 5 (2024)
evaluation etc


We are talking to possible partner groups to work with us on different strands of the project. Read more about how youth groups can get involved in the Tales from the River project in the brief for organisers. If you would be interested, please get in touch with Imogen Radford, imogen36 [at] googlemail.com, or Contact me through this website.

Other ways you could get involved:
• Help research the history of outdoor swimming and other recreational use of our rivers in the Breckland area (training provided)
• Volunteer to help with the youth group activities
• Do you have any stories, memories, folklore, or old photos or films about outdoor swimming and other river fun in Breckland? Would you be willing to be interviewed about your memories, or can you suggest anyone else who would? See this page asking if you have any Outdoor Swimming photos or stories to share
• If you are interested in hearing about more as the project develops, please give us your contact information (your information will not be passed on to anyone else or used for anything else).
• Contact me with any questions, suggestions, or to get involved imogen36 [at] googlemail.com


My article on how we can make outdoor swimming safe (and why we should)
Swimming safety advice from the Outdoor Swimming Society
• A couple of potted histories of outdoor swimming: on wild swimming website and on the Hung out to Dry website
• East Anglian author whose 1999 book, Waterlog, is credited with reviving outdoor swimming, Roger Deakin: on Goodreads and on the Caught by the River website

swims and swim places, and related issues