The River Lea cuts through Haringey, from Enfield in the north to Hackney in the south. Despite its polluted state – according to Theo Thomas, the London Waterkeeper, the River Lea is one of the unhealthiest rivers in England – one woman thinks it should be celebrated, and she wants you to join her.
Cheryl Cohen is the brains behind the popular Tottenham Ploughman events, which first brought together the area’s craft beer from Redemption Brewery with cheese from fellow local Wildes Cheese and the then-local Flourish Bakery. The first event in Downhill’s Park saw crowds drink and eat until the stalls ran out.
From there she’s branched out to include a WinterFest in Bruce Castle Park, a ‘CloudFest’ in celebration of Luke Howard the Tottenham man known as the namer of clouds, as well as May Day and Day of the Dead events.
Wine, ice cream and a feast of crustaceans
Now she is putting the finishing touches to a second ‘RiverFest’, to be held in Lordship Rec on 29 May, and this event is looking outwards from Tottenham. “We started these events to celebrate Tottenham,” Cheryl explains. “We only wanted people selling here who were based in Tottenham. This seems a great opportunity to widen it out, to say to people in Waltham Forest, in Enfield, in Hackney – this is your river, come and celebrate.”
The second RiverFest sees Wildes and Redemption return, with bakery duties now falling to Today Bread. There will be live music from Pan Nation, Hackney Colliery Band, Folkdance Remixed, the Tottenham Community Choir and others. Wine, ice cream and lots of local food is all on the menu too.
But the key to the last RiverFest, and returning for this year, was a feast of crustaceans prepared by local hero Crayfish Bob.
Red signal crayfish are an invasive species in UK waterways, and Cheryl hopes that eating them will prompt more thoughts about local rivers, as well as delighting palates. “They do a lot of damage and the message should be they need to be eaten into extinction.”
Our rivers are your rivers
Under the strap-line ‘Our rivers are your rivers’, Cheryl is hoping people who come for the crayfish, the cheese and the beer will sign up to seven pledges to improve the precarious state of their local waterway.
These include making sure home plumbing is not connected to the wrong drains (a surprisingly major problem in the local area), avoiding products containing plastic microbeads which can poison water-dwelling animals, and not pouring fat down the drains. These small actions, she points out, could make a big difference.
As well as being a festival full of fun and food, RiverFest is a chance to speak to experts from the Environment Agency, Thames 21, Canal and River Trust, and other organisations concerned about our rivers.
There are also opportunities to join a run-and-litter-pick to the festival, cycle to the festival with Kidical Mass, book for a tour of Walthamstow Wetlands, a herb tour of the marshes and more.
“One of my favourite local things is walking by the Lea,” she says. “We’re very lucky to have it.”
As she looks forward to another successful Tottenham event, Cheryl says her favourite memory is still that first Tottenham Ploughman event. “When Sam and Andy [from Redemption] said ‘The beer’s sold out, we have to go back to the brewery and get more.’ When we knew that the Ploughman’s lunches had sold out and there were people still coming. A crowd of happy people.”
Words: Daniel Cressey
Photographs: Joe Culleton