Common Ground devised the first ever Water Market on August 18th 2000, a national gathering for producers who are integrally involved with water, and for water. The event in Blandford Forum was followed by a concert of Pipeworks in the Corn Exchange.

The intention was to draw together a serious array of people, producers and manufacturers whose trades are inextricably linked with water, or who produce devices to aid water conservation, in a street market which also made links with the river Stour. We felt that using a traditional market place with stalls and everything associated with them would not only invigorate the square in a new but easily understood way, but also give us the chance to bring together all kinds of producers and products, jostling as in the souk or bazaar.

Holding fast to the idea – water, how we use it, what we grow in it and how we can take more care of it, began to offer exciting possibilities. So a new kind of market evolved in our minds: focussing on water, food from the river, water power, river and water conservation – we sought to bring together groups, people and issues that never normally would come together, to help people to see how they could conserve water in their own homes and gardens, buy the appropriate appliances and food grown with the health of both people and the river in mind – all the things a market has traditionally done well. Technological advances are being made all the time, the Water Market should give professionals, householders and gardeners the chance to see them and discuss them.

We had begun long before to complete a list of the best producers from the Stour Catchment, nearby valleys and from across England. Best for us means people producing high quality goods, with care for the environment, and we searched widely for complementary participation demonstrating the best of the local and the best beyond (and to remind people that the best can often be local). For food producers our priority was to involve those who either used the water from the river or energy from it. We wanted top quality produce, naturally won and organically produced if possible.

Blandford Library put up our displays about Confluence and the ideas behind the Water Market and organised an activity day for 6-8 year olds on the day before the event. A member of the Environment Agency read excerpts from The Wind in the Willows and the children made masks of dragonflies and talked about the river.

A range of bottled waters was donated by spring water retailers for people to sample at the market. The Natural Mineral Water Information Service (sponsored by leading suppliers) let us have a useful brochure to give away.

We were quickly approached by people from across the country, including Norfolk, Suffolk and Huddersfield, to help them reinvent The Water Market for their place. The members of the Institute of Plumbers were so impressed with Pipeworks that they invited them to play at their annual conference. Another Water Market was held on the River Parrett in Somerset, and Winchester in Hampshire held its first of what is hoped will become an annual Water Festival in August 2003. Here you can read more about the Hampshire Water Festival and similar events which followed in the wake of the Water Market.

The synergy was palpable – it really worked to bring disparate people into the same place closely around the focus of water, it did add up to much more. BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme produced a half-hour broadcast dedicated to the Water Market, part of a series exploring uses of water across the world.