Community Engagement

Posted by Climate Emergency UK on Monday, 13 July 2020

This was the last in a series of four zoom meetings on community engagement.

Geoff Barnard of South East Climate Alliance Described how progress in getting a foot in the door with councils has been “patchy”. But now there is movement, some new challenges are emerging.

SECA was established in Feb 2019. 14 local green groups came together, now grown to 88 members – Initially to encourage councils to declare a climate emergency, now more concerned with actions, and hence developing relationships, sharing good practice, and keeping tabs on council action plans.

Responses from councils have varied, from suspicion or defensiveness at one end of the spectrum to openness to engagement at the other.

The general shift has been toward more engagement. But there are still more than half of Councils where they don’t know about much in the way of engagement.

Example: West Sussex. SECA joined an investment ‘die in’ outside County Hall in Feb 2019. “We were advised that we’d be more influential if we were more respectful of the process” so we were very polite.

Relationship developed steadily over past year. Joined advisory group as a “critical friend”. Need to get the balance right between the critic and the friend!

Input on draft climate strategy gathered, and well-received.

Now moving to the next stage in quite a few places. Q: How to capitalise on new relationships?

Or, how does a Council engage with Green groups of often very different character, and can the groups evolve from pressure groups to effective delivery partners?

Role for networks, alliances, hubs? What models are there?

Engaging with green groups just one part of the picture.

Publishing the climate plan is the first step!

Need for (initial?) compromises; “parking the elephants”.

Rowan McLaughlan, of XR Educators talked about what XR thinks about how local councils are doing. There is no single answer: party because XR doesn’t work that way, partly because councils are doing different things.

But there are questions XR wants to ask.

– Does the declaration extend beyond council’s own operations?

– How typical are Redcar and Cleveland (who have been mentioned in these meetings before as offering good targets but falling behind in the actions promised)?

– How many councils have action plans?

– Have they led to concrete actions?

– Will it be enough if all the councils do as their plans propose?

80 per cent of councils have declared some kind of climate emergency now. But this doesn’t reflect the reality of the situation. Few have an early enough target for the whole borough. Only perhaps a third have a good enough target.

The most important thing is to talk to local XR group, who would love to help. “We want to work in partnership with people”.

Shana Tufail, Model My City: SDGs for Camden

Shana is involved with XR, and has also set up a CIC, Model my City, to encourage local adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals. “The idea was to bring the local council together with local businesses and residents”. Pitched to Camden Council sustainability group, which led to joint event in London Climate Week.

This, and other work with XR, developed into further work, encouraged by the leader of the Council leader (and also Keir Starmer), particularly via many meetings on climate issues.

Last year Camden Council hosted a citizens’ assembly and Shana was an observer at the third assembly event.

Also invited to join a local community group, The Sustainers, to see how XR could contribute to work in schools, and invited to speak at Camden climate emergency rally hosted by the Council.

When Camden passed its own climate emergency resolution, other initiatives followed, in schools, on the high street – with a climate pop-up space with its own shop front – used as an event venue until lockdown.

Work with head of strategy for Camden, and wider sustainability team.

During COVID interlude – Camden and partners have built on relationships established beforehand for mutual aid.

Julian Thompson Shared Assets & Land Explorer

Land Explorer is a mapping application developed by Shared Assets that helps community groups find, access and manage land.

That and work with XR underpins an interest in how climate emergency declarations relate to planning.

For example, Newcastle had a climate plan in 2010, so one can ask: what happened? And how close are they to their targets?

The answer was, “no idea; we haven’t measured it; the guy we hired to do the job we had to let go because we ran out of money…”

We’re in the midst of a shift with COVID, with more financial pressure. So we need to look again at climate emergency plans; local development plans; and perhaps already a neighbourhood plan. “It’s really important these threads are drawn together”, particularly when we’re looking at post-COVID regeneration.

So we all need to get involved as citizen planners in housing, energy, agriculture and transport.

Land Explorer as a platform supports that in terms of gathering information. Working to map assets of community value; space and sites for renewable energy; possible sites for peri-urban agriculture; space for re-wilding and regenerative agriculture.

XR, Plan B, and Client Earth are starting to launch legal challenges against some infrastructure planning decisions. It’s good if there are credible economic alternatives that activists can also point to.

That extends to work on governance structures – e.g. community land trusts – that can deliver the infrastructure that is better aligned with climate resolutions.

Also important for new, more resilient/climate-friendly infrastructure development projects in housing, energy, agriculture or transport to be community-owned and controlled – a “people’s Green New Deal”. Co-operative legal structures need development.

Councils (and others) don’t recognise the speed and scale at which we have to act.

It’s also important to connect LA plans with the “anchor institutions” such as universities, hospitals, emergency services, and schools. They need to adopt procurement policies that fit sustainability plans and contribute to community wealth building.

Example, in North Tyne, GDP is around 17.5 billion, of which 3 billion is public sector procurement. “That’s a big lever”.

Where does the money come from? Post-COVID, non-public sources of finance will be key. Pension schemes. Social income tax relief. Ways of activating community capital. Patient capital (pension funds again).


Bob Bollen, Kingston

Do we need a toolkit on how to engage with your Council?

Julian – we are trying very hard to publish all the info in a digestible form.

a) a playbook for setting up a climate emergency centre; with template letters etc

b) People’s Green New Deal – playbook is on the way

c) XR – Climate and ecological emergency working group producing stuff.