Reps Spotlight: Chani Courtney and the Isle of Wight

We won’t be able to fit all of Chani’s achievements into one post, but here goes.

Chani Courtney, our rep in the Isle of Wight, is an absolute powerhouse in the Isle of Wight community and we’re stoked to have her on the team. Read more about what goes on in the IOW and what difficulties they face as a community tackling sewage pollution.

  1. Chani, tell us about the work that you do as a Surfers Against Sewage rep? 

The work that I’ve done as a rep has been really varied and fabulous, and I’ve loved every second. I’ve done Million Mile Cleans, Ocean school sessions, a paddle out protest, and an ocean film festival. I’ve also done work around policy, like presentations to Parish Councils, Town Councils, Sustainability Groups.

As Surfers Against Sewage is an apolitical charity, it’s really powerful to be able to say, no, I’m not entering politics, but regardless of party, this is a really important problem you need to fix. I use the end sewage pollution manifesto for that really widely.

I’m also on the stakeholder group for Southern Water for their pathfinder project.

  1. Can you talk about the issues that you face specifically in the Isle of Wight?

Here on the Isle of Wight, hundreds of hours of our combined sewage overflows go into a very sensitive, highly protected area called the Solent, and it also affects our harbours and estuaries.

We’re figuring out as a community how to get everyone on board, to see the positives in solutions that are put forwards. People are now at a point where they want to see change.

I’m trying to show that we can be part of the solution. I’m supporting nature-based solutions and things that people can achieve, like pushing back on driveways that don’t have permeability, on new roof spaces that don’t have drainage coming into the soil, and supporting slow release water butts. We’ve also got a new wetland being engineered by Southern Water.

Because of the geology of the IOW we have quite a high run-off rate of water, and we have large urbanized areas. As a result, a water flow of even just a 5mm rain event overloads the permits given to Southern Water to manage the flow. There’s a lot of local knowledge over how different hydrology works where their CSOs are. People are very targeted and passionate about the little bit of the island they live in.

Southern Water’s Pathfinder Project has been investing and physically putting in mechanisms to stop the water changing their network. At the moment, all the layers of regulators have been a barrier to progress, and applications to the Environment Agency take so long. It’s frustrating that when a solution is put forward, like swathes, tree pits, dug out areas for highways, it can’t just be installed with ease. And on the island, because of road management contracts, each area is required to work on its own network individually rather than as a whole.

We’re already seeing some combined sewer overflows holding back 5 and 10mm storms because of the work that’s been going on.

At the site locally where my son got sick, it has now had a slight alteration and isn’t spilling so much. I can see it on the safer seas and rivers service app that it’s not spilling for so long, and I’ve been part of that change by encouraging and gently pushing. Being supportive when something goes through and saying well done. It’s just an incredible journey.

  1. We are in awe of how much you’ve achieved independently and with your community. What are your biggest tips for someone who wants to do the same?

The biggest tip I could offer would be, be willing to be surprised.

Be willing to not go into spaces with preconceived ideas because the people who are most active and most passionate are not the people that I expected to be outside of the SAS network and within the community. And be willing to go to other people’s spaces. So, if somebody invites you to be part of their meeting, go along, because from that they’ll then invite you back to do something more SAS branded. I think that utilising networks and contacts that you make gently, and when someone does do something right don’t hold back from giving praise. Honest praise I think is a really powerful tool.

And finally, collaborate. When something crosses over, work together. Other people in spaces that you just won’t expect will be passionate about this subject, and I have learnt so much by just being present and listening and praising.

  1. What’s your hope for the future of the ocean?

My hope for the ocean is that citizens feel empowered to take every tangible action that they can within their sphere of influence, within the time that they have available to them. And realise the potential for change that that has. And know that you might not see the full effect of your work. You might not get the feedback, but every single thing that you do makes a difference.

On community action, it’s important to know that you can keep going within your own bounds. It needs to be sustainable within your own life and fit with what you’re already doing, and whatever that may be, it’s powerful. We’re in a real time of change and with a line-up of the public pressure, the general election for the UK, the funding cycle for water companies.

I am a very hopeful person, but being in this role as an SAS rep, meeting the people that I have, seeing the intelligent campaigns we’re championing, I am even more hopeful than before.

In response to Chani’s work, Southern Water’s CEO, Lawrence Godsen, replied, “We have listened to customers and campaigners, and Southern has not paid dividends to shareholders since 2017. Our Chief Finance Officer and I personally responded to the Surfers Against Sewage campaign on water quality by taking no bonus for last year’s performance. We completely agree with your End Sewage Manifesto and particularly with using nature-based solutions to reduce sewage pollution. The Isle of Wight is a leading light in our Pathfinder projects which are putting this into practice — so this week it was great to talk about the action we’re taking and possibilities for the future with its SAS rep, Chani.”

Thanks so much to Chani for sharing her insight. We are honoured to have reps like Chani championing change on the ground in their communities. 

Want to get involved as an SAS Rep? We’ll be recruiting this year for new reps across the UK. Look out for announcements.