UK councils are striving to create people-powered plans for climate action. Discover expert advice on increasing community engagement – and see inspiring examples from two London boroughs.
Involving communities in climate action can be tricky – with engagement often dominated by a small group of residents, those who already passionate about climate issues, or those fiercely opposed to any changes. Chris Church of community development and training organisation Talk Action has key tips for councils aiming to reach a broader cross-section of society. His advice includes:
- Take time to research, map and understand the communities you want to engage. When you make contact, don’t preach – listen.
- Think about ways to make the climate change relevant to local people. Develop different pitches for different communities, tailored to the outcomes that will be most attractive to each group. It’s important to draw on the many co-benefits of climate action – higher incomes and better health are great issues to start with. Use Ashden’s tools and resources for councils to get started.
- Reach people through every network and avenue you can – from faith groups to library notice boards. Look for the well-connected individuals who can unlock access to specific communities, and remember that every person or organisation opens doors to further connections.
- Know what exactly you want people you engage to do. Do you want them to campaign, to shape policies and plans, or to carry out work on the ground? And come up with a plan for the long term. Who will continue the work and liaise with community groups once the initial burst of activity is over?
- Council climate planning should bring diverse groups together. When people newer to climate issues meet with deeply engaged campaigners, make sure quieter voices have the space to be heard.
Two inspiring initiatives: active travel in Waltham Forest, community energy in Kensington and Chelsea
Enjoy Waltham Forest is a pioneering active travel scheme in the London Borough. It has created over 42km of segregated cycle track, 31 pocket parks and more than 200 new road crossings – as well as tree planting, enhanced cycle storage and more. This has brought a big improvement in air quality, and the life expectancy of children born in the borough today has risen by six weeks as a result.
Working with residents has been central to the scheme, paving the way for controversial decisions such as road closures. ‘Live trials’ allowed residents to experience changes for a few days before responding to consultations, while community engagement platform Commonplace helped the council gather feedback.
Data was used to challenge assumptions blocking progress: in one key street, business thought that customers travelled to them by car 63% of the time. But residents said the figure was just 20%.
And the scheme has supported a diverse web of community groups – from Muslim cycling group Cycle Sisters to a children’s BMX club and walking groups tackling loneliness among older people.
Elsewhere in the capital, charity Repowering London have created North Kensington Community Energy. This co-op is run with strong support from The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. It installs income-generating solar panels on community buildings, trains young people, and supports the borough’s low-carbon transition.
46 tonnes of CO2 emissions are now avoided every year – and 16 young people have been trained and given paid work experience.
Repowering often works with low-income and Black and Minority Ethnic communities, groups that many councils struggle to engage in climate issues. Repowering programme manager Dave Fuller explains there is enthusiasm in these communities for taking action, but that they rarely get practical opportunities to make a difference.
He says: “We’re giving people the chance to do what they already want to do. And there is so much power within the community.
“Everybody knows climate change is a problem, but they don’t know what they can do. If you give people the opportunity to see their impact, they give more and more and more.”
Online networks can offer further ideas, resources and inspiration for engaging communities in climate action. This Trello board from Hammersmith and Fulham Council offers links to help officers plan, secure funding and build partnerships – as well as examples of successful projects. And The Collective for Climate Action draws together public sector employees working together to address the climate and biodiversity crisis.
London councils discussed these insights at a meeting of Ashden’s Local Authority Learning Hubs. Find out more about the project, which is supported by MCS Foundation.