During my A levels I was politically active, campaigning for press freedom, the end of Apartheid, and supporting Amnesty, PETA and, as was de rigueur in the late 1980s, protesting against government cuts to social housing, education and the National Health Service. This political activism led me to want to underpin my enthusiasm to help shape a fairer society, with equal opportunities for all, with academic training. So I undertook my BA (hons) degree in Politics at Leeds University, specialising in development studies and international relations, with a particular focus on sub-Saharan rural livelihoods.
After my degree I continued to be involved in campaigning for press freedom, and I worked for a number of years in London as a copywriter and editor, before joining the charitable sector to work on team projects. This phase lead me to re-engage with development theory, and I recognised that I needed to have some hands on experience to really understand how macro scale politics affects peoples everyday lives. I took a sabbatical from work and joined a small, but dynamic NGO, the Marlborough-Brandt group, in their offices in Gunjur, the Gambia, West Africa. Here I utilised my professional skills and academic training in supporting a number of women-lead micro-finance projects.
This synthesis of pragmatic grass-root based initiatives within the context of rural development- how impactful, well planned, supported and locally generated interventions can help rural economies – was the spur for me to undertake a part time MSc in International Development at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), part of the University of London. Whilst studying for my MSc I worked for Save the Children (UK) as their Regional Co-coordinator for West and Southern Africa, helping to support programme officers, both remotely and within Accra, Ghana.
Having completed my MSc (merit), and desiring more exposure to programme work, I wanted to move from the INGO level to working again directly with Community Based Organisations (CBOs). My husband and I relocated to Kampala, Uganda, working under DANIDA (the Danish International Development Agency) to support the National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE). NAPE at this time were campaigning around the negative impacts to local livelihoods and cultural cohesiveness that the proposed chain of hydropower dams would make to rural villages along a portion of the White Nile, including the destruction of the Bujagali Falls, a place of great spiritual significance for many neighbouring communities. My work with NAPE increasingly focused on advocacy work, questioning the energy-water discourse which privileged economic development over the needs and wants of local lives and indigenous cultures. During my MSc my thesis supervisor was Professor Tony Allan, a world renowned water management expert, whose focus on the politics embedded in national water strategies, and in particular the asymmetry between water governor and water subject, had a significant impact on my own thinking around sustainable water policy. Influenced by both my academic and development work, I decided to undertake a PhD in Integrated Water Resources Management, with a particular focus on the role of legitimacy in enabling new forms of water governance to emerge at the river catchment level.
My PhD at Cranfield University’s Water Science Institute was funded through an EU scholarship, and as part of this I also worked as a workpackage co-ordinator on an EU project called AQUADAPT, exploring the social dimensions of water scarcity within five European countries – Spain, Slovenia, the Netherlands, France and the UK. This work integrated both quantitative and qualitative empirical fieldwork and involved generating a large data set detailing household water behaviours across all five countries. I remained at Cranfield for a following two years as a post-doctoral researcher. During this time I was awarded funding by the Royal Academy of Engineering to take up a three month placement within the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in Pretoria, South Africa, working alongside Professor Anthony Turton. Professor Turton’s work critiquing South Africa’s emergent post-reconciliation water sector, illuminated issues regarding the possibility of a universal application of a constitutional right to water, and embedded for me the essential importance of managing water resources with issues regarding sustainability, equity and local, meaningful participation at the fore.
After my two year post-doctoral research work my husband, also an academic, was offered a Fellowship at the University of California at Berkeley (UBC). How could we refuse! So with our two young children, who were then aged 1 and 3, we packed up our house and travelled around the world – starting in Malaysia, then Hong Kong, followed by Costa Rica then finally arriving in California. After the end of the Fellowship we moved to the South of France to enjoy some family time together before my eldest child started school. When we returned to the UK we realised after enjoying all the wonderful landscapes and sunshine overseas that we had to live near the sea. We were drawn to the magnificence of the South Downs, so we relocated to Sussex in late 2012.
In 2013 I was awarded a Daphne Jackson Research Fellowship, to design and lead on an empirically focused project, exploring community responses to changes in local water environments along the River Adur valley in West Sussex. In particular my work has sought to interrogate if practises, actions, behaviours and attitudes towards local water resources, within the context of sustainable futures, could be deemed ‘resilient’. The work has been hugely rewarding and I am delighted to be continuing to contribute to the prestigious research community within the University of Brighton. I have been delighted to have joined the dynamic, diverse team within the School of Environment and Technology (SET). There is a strong focus on working between disciplines, and with colleagues across the University. This creates a lively, dynamic research atmosphere, where the research work of the student body is as valued as the co-collaboration amongst the academic staff, in an atmosphere within which motivated hard-working students can flourish. It’s a great place to work -plus I get to look at the sea every day!