Did you know that there is such as thing as the Drinking Fountain Association (DFA)? It sounds like it should be part of The Kinks’ The Village Green Preservation Society, but it has been in existence and working hard since 1859. It perhaps might not mean much to you, but I find that very pleasing. Partly because it’s survived all these years when drinking fountains have fallen very much out of fashion, partly because the Association continues to do good work, and partly because drinking fountains are currently experiencing a renaissance, hopefully meaning that the DFA will thrive for as many more years to come.
The DFA was founded in response to the cholera outbreak of the 1850s. With hundreds dying daily and the discovery that the cause was waterborne – the Thames and other major city rivers were far from pretty in those days – the provision of clean public drinking water was the obvious solution. Then, the DFA was responsible for literally saving lives. Today, it’s largely focused on saving and preserving the beautifully created fountains of the 19th century, however it also works with British schools, ensuring kids have access to free water, as well as overseas organisations in countries where clean water isn’t as easily accessible as it is here – all laudable actions.
The resurgence of drinking fountains in the UK today is more to do with saving the planet than saving lives, although in the very long term that could amount to the same thing. MIW is currently involved in a project to return free public drinking fountains to London in an attempt to reduce the enormous volume of plastic waste the city sends to landfill and the citizens leave to litter and pollute the environment. Working with the Greater London Authority (GLA) and the #OneLess bottle campaign, this spring MIW is donating 20 sports bottle refill stations and drinking fountains for installation in strategic positions around the capital, the hope is that people will go for the free and easy option, over expensive and wasteful shop-bought bottles.
When the first drinking fountain was opened by the DFA in 1859, more than 7,000 people used it on a daily basis. Subsequent fountains received a similar number of visitors. Perhaps it’s a stretch to imagine that our fountains could receive such traffic to begin with – it’s going to take a conscious change of culture for the drinking fountain to be fully embraced again – but just imagine if they did. With 20 fountains/sports bottle refill stations, we could be saving 140,000 single use plastic bottles a day – 980,000 a week. Multiply that to cover a month and we’d be well over the FOUR MILLION mark. Imagine that. Who says that you can’t change the world one person – one bottle – at a time?
While I know that the Drinking Fountain Association was originally created for very different reasons than the ones driving our current movement, I can’t help but think that they might have approved of the work we’re doing now. After all, our modus operandi is very much the same.
As Ray Davies might say:
We are the drinking fountain preservation society,
God bless refill stations and all the different varieties,
Preserving the old ways from being abused,
Protecting the new ways, for me and for you…