Changing Streams was established in 2018 by Liverpool businessman Neal Maxwell and his co-founders Gareth Abrahams, Brendon Kenny and Jonathan Sharples.
Neal travelled to the Arctic for the holiday of a lifetime during 2018, to see the wildlife and unspoiled landscapes. He was horrified to learn of the extent to which plastic had invaded what he had imagined as a pristine environment, and on return to the UK resolved to take positive action.
He met with Jonathan and Gareth at the University of Liverpool and together with Brendon Kenny, an innovator and entrepreneur, they set up the not-for-profit company Changing Streams. As Neal had run a successful construction company for over 30 years, the construction industry seemed an appropriate place to start.
With the support of Liverpool University’s vice chancellor and the Liverpool City Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram, this small group has now grown to include partners with a wide range of skills and experience, but all with the driving ambition to fulfil the mission of Changing Streams – to remove plastic from the built environment.
During our lifetime some of us are lucky enough to encounter extraordinary people doing extraordinary things. Sarah Auffret was one such person who I was blessed to meet and call a friend. She as also the inspiration behind the setting up of Changing Streams.
Sarah was the expedition leader on my trip to the Arctic in July 2018, where she led a team of around 20 experts from around the world.
Team leaders are hand-picked for such roles based on their experience and knowledge of the conditions we would be operating in. Each day at 6.30am, Sarah would wake us up with the call “Good morning, good morning..” which gave us time to ready ourselves for breakfast before getting prepared for the day ahead.
As TL, Sarah would be responsible for coordinating navigation details with the bridge, checking weather, ice and snow conditions, plan shore activities with the Expedition Team and above all, ensure the safety of everyone.
Sarah had a deep and intense respect for the wilderness and applied this through a strict etiquette which she instilled into us. Whilst it is amazing to see and experience wildlife in their own environment, we would also be told not to get too close as they needed rest from human presence. Being in the Arctic, one of her jobs was to ensure polar bears’ safety by sending staff scouting ahead of time.
At all times, we tried to minimise our impact on the place we visited.
One day we came upon a large group of walrus and were advised to walk slowly, sit and observe. No lecture or book can replace first-hand observation in the wild so we made the most of it! Most of all Sarah taught us how to learn to look, something which most of us do not do!
Every day we would be asked to collect any plastic we found either floating in the sea or washed up on the shoreline. I was staggered with the amount of debris we found in such a remote and beautiful environment.
Each day was concluded with a lecture and briefing from one or two of the specialist expedition team. During this time many questions would be asked about a wide range of issues. The expedition staff were always on hand to answer our queries and provided snippets of information about the wildlife, history, and geology of the places we have visited.
On my return to the UK I kept in touch with Sarah who was hugely supportive of the work I was doing at Changing Streams. She then became Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO) environmental agent and I recall her telling me how excited she was about this hugely important role. Her 3 points of focus were clean up, education and reduction. We kept in touch and Sarah sent regular updates, images, and data to help with my work. We enjoyed several skype calls and she eventually started to plan a trip to Liverpool when with a view to looking around the facilities at the University of Liverpool and meet the rest of the team. The date was yet to be set but we talked about sometime in May/June 2019. However, this was not to be….
On Sunday March 10, 2019, she was on her way to Nairobi to talk about the Clean Seas project in connection with the UN Environment Assembly. Her Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed soon after take-off from Addis Ababa with no survivors. As you can imagine this was devastating news and an extremely sad time. However, I remembered all our conversations and recalled her passion for the environment which she instilled into me. It was this depth of passion that drove me on to make Changing Streams successful and I was determined from that point on that Sarah’s legacy would live on through our work.
I met Sarah whilst on a trip with G-Adventures in 2018. The company has been supportive of our work and continues to help us where possible to this day.
Sarah Auffret was born and grew up in France, studied in England and Germany before making her way to the Polar Regions. Her passion for travelling also led her to Japan where she taught for five years. Realising she preferred cold places with plenty of light, she spent the last 4 years between the summers of the High Arctic and the Antarctic Peninsula. She became a tour guide in Tromsø and the Lofoten (Norway) in 2011. She then had the chance to work for the Antarctic Heritage Trust at Port Lockroy, also known as the Penguin Post Office. She fell in love with the place and returned as Base Leader in 2014-15. When she left base, Sarah had been leading Expedition trips to the Norwegian Arctic and the Antarctic Peninsula. During this period and when she wasn’t in the Polar Regions, Sarah lived in the small Patagonian village of El Chaltén, Argentina.
In 2018 Sarah joined AECO and was based in Tromsø. Sarah held a project position as AECO’s environmental agent and was responsible for AECO’s Clean Seas initiatives. She led AECO’s efforts to drastically cut back on single-use plastics on Arctic expedition cruise vessels, as well as enhance cruise passengers’ involvement in regular beach cleanups.
She held a BA in European Studies and German from the University of Plymouth. She worked as a polar guide, expedition leader on trips to Svalbard, East Greenland and the Antarctic Peninsula and as base leader of Port Lockroy. She had a long-standing passion for environmental issues. In 2010, she initiated a coastal cleanup movement in Naruto, Japan.