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About the River Thames Scheme

The River Thames between Egham and Teddington in Surrey is one of the largest areas of undefended, developed floodplain in England. In the past, the area has suffered serious floods. With climate change, the risk of flooding is only going to grow. In December 2020 the government directed that the River Thames Scheme be treated as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP).

The £501 million flood alleviation scheme will be delivered jointly by Surrey County Council and the Environment Agency.

The scheme in a nutshell:

A new river channel built in two sections – at Runnymede and at Spelthorne – will provide:

  • improvements to existing river structures
  • new recreation areas for communities and habitats for wildlife
  • measures that will better protect thousands of homes and businesses, enhance the natural environment around the river, and boost the local economy.

We have designed websites for two other Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects, Crossrail and HS2, where stakeholder engagement is a priority. We were excited to work with the River Thames Scheme on their project.

I’m delighted that we decided to go with Studio 24 for the development of the River Thames Scheme website. We thought the experience you could bring to the project from the similar projects you have worked on is unparalleled.

Major Projects Communications Manager, Surrey County Council

Our role

To help plan and create a website that enabled Surrey County Council and the Environment Agency to transition content away from the gov.uk site, allowing them to converse directly with wide-ranging stakeholders such as local residents, river users, commuters, and MPs on matters that are important to them. The website helps to engage stakeholders throughout current the Development Consent Order (DCO) application, future construction, and the project legacy.

Illustration of an aerial map of the river thames scheme in Surrey

Gathering and grouping information

During this stage, we looked at the scheme’s milestones, its challenges, and the types of information required. Such as DCO content, documentation, and ways to ensure that the user is kept informed and can be heard.

We set about grouping information into logical buckets. Organising content in this way helped aid further content discussions and we were able to consider how best to communicate and present complex information to the user.

A list of the content buckets, with their subheadings. The content buckets are: about the scheme, about the process, local communities, opportunities, documents and resources, news and contact.

Creating user job stories to ensure we focus on stakeholder needs

Creating stories helps us to plan and map content to each stakeholder’s journey, to ensure users achieve their goals efficiently.

For the client, job stories help them look at things from a user’s point of view.

Stories allow us to evaluate and prioritise content. Job stories underpin our decisions. They are something we can refer back to throughout the project.

An example job story for a landowner / prescriptive stakeholder. There are three parts to the story and they start 'when', 'I want' and 'so I can'

Wireframing the user experience and templates

Taking the above information, wireframes were created so we could test the user journeys and ensure we could cater for the information and content types needed to help hand-hold the user.

The interactive wireframes allowed us to make fast iterations and test the flexibility of the approach.

 

 

Examples of six wireframes - they show the layout of the page, image boxes are greyed out, text is just a placeholder
Aerial photograph of the river thames at Chertsey

Designing for engagement

It was important for the design to have a positive feel and we wanted to echo the ebb and flow of the river.  The scheme itself provides benefits beyond the reassurance that the river will be contained, it provides communities with new green spaces and opportunities to use and enjoy the river.

A set of brand guidelines had been created which we took and extended so it would work online. Using the green and blue concept we wanted to create a sense of controlling fluidity and supporting communities.

An example of one of the designed web pages showing the blue and green colour scheme
Another example web page showing the blue and green colour scheme to engage stakeholders

Workflow and handover

The website was built by the team at Surrey County Council using SquizMatrix CMS and the Bootstrap CSS framework. We supported a phased approach for development, suggesting what pages to build first so that the first iteration of the website meets the overall goals for River Thames Scheme.

The initial content for launch has been pared back. Over time we’re looking forward to seeing more templates and content used. The website went live in November 2021 and is now engaging with communities and stakeholders as the RTS development journey begins.

Having worked on other major infrastructure projects, it was important to design a solution that could scale, and has the flexibility to adapt to the different phases of the project whilst having strength at the core to allow new content and features to be added over time. We looked across the life of the project to pin content and content types to these milestones. It’s impossible to predict everything but we worked hard to ensure the core deliverable of the project could contain both the ebb and flow of such a fast-paced project and the needs of its audience and the community comms team.

Ian Axton
Ian Axton, Studio 24