A retired Civil Servant is spearheading a campaign to install a drinking fountain and water refill points in Shaftesbury.
Alfred met up with Nettlebed Nursery resident Bill Sherriff to hear why he wants free water on demand on our High Street.
Access to water has been an issue in Shaftesbury throughout history. The recently reinstated Byzant procession remembers the tradition of thanking the owner of the springs at the base of the hill for providing the town above with drinking water.
The May ceremony, which pays homage to the Lord of the Manor, passes the former Fountain Inn, and the event encouraged Bill Sheriff to consider why fountains have disappeared from public spaces. “It struck a chord with my past. When I was young, drinking fountains did feature. They are not so numerous now but it’s coming back to vogue and is appropriate now,” he said.
If people can access water for free, they might not buy it in plastic bottles. Bill, who was initially inspired by a chat about fountains with environmentalist Sue Clifford, went on to Swans Yard to share his vision with Shaftesbury’s zero waste store owner. “Lucy Barfoot from Coconut and Cotton is very keen on the idea because it dispenses with the excessive use of throwaway plastic bottles,” said Bill.
“A few months ago, it popped up as an idea,” said Lucy. “Then Bill came in and talked to me about it. I’d been trying to make this happen, very much in the background, but it’s really cool that more and more people are actually trying to make it happen.” Lucy believes that providing public water access is a good sustainability measure.
Bill has two ideas in mind. Firstly, he would like a formal fountain, a piece of art, dedicated to a local landmark. “Guys Marsh was originally an American wartime hospital. There were quite a few in our county at the time. It would be a tribute to that hospital,” said Bill.
In a letter sent to Town councillors, the Shaftesbury Royal British Legion President, the Open Spaces and Tree Groups, Shaftesbury’s clergy and MP Simon Hoare, Bill suggests that dedicating a fountain on Park Walk would aid our special relationship with the United States and be of interest to American tourists. He says that the installation would be fitting as we remember the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
Secondly, Bill would also like the Council to consider water bottle fill-up points. “A more everyday top-up on the High Street. I understand that Kings Cross and Victoria Stations have them already,” Bill said.
Lucy backs the fountain idea, but she also wants businesses to adopt a quick-to-implement plan that requires no infrastructure. She would like a town-wide drive to encourage shops, cafés and public places to offer free tap water and to promote their participation in the refill scheme, through signage and on an app.
“With the refill app, you can basically sign your business up and I’ll put a sticker on my window, so people can just come in and fill up their water. It’s a well-known app that people can use to find places,” said Lucy.
Other towns have followed this initiative and I asked Lucy whether businesses that sell drinks were supportive of the move, or whether they considered free water stations as unfair competition. “I haven’t heard anything negative like that as such,” Lucy said. “I think it actually brings more people to a shop or a café because they find you on the app. It’s starting to become a logo that people are getting more familiar with. It’s at service stations and airports. I think it’d be a positive thing for the business.”
In his widely circulated letter, Bill said Dorset councillor Derek Beer had told him that the authority had recently approved the installation of drinking water outlets for refills. And Shaftesbury’s Mayor, Cllr Tim Cook, and Town Clerk Claire Commons say that they are both aware of Bill’s suggestion.
Tim cautions that adding a fountain to the town centre is not as straightforward as it might seem. Water would need to be regularly checked for legionella. Tim says that the proposal is likely to be debated by the Town Council this autumn. Members may also be asked to discuss the merits of promoting the water station refill project as a town-wide initiative.