Insights from Lewisham People's Parliament

Helping people with learning disabilities speak up on climate


Posted By:

Martin Stitchman

Lewisham Speaking Up

A middle-aged man

A project in South London has helped people with learning disabilities find out about – and share their views on – the climate crisis. See what residents had to say, and how organisations can do more to include everyone in climate conversations.

Picture: Peter Cronin, Lewisham People’s Parliament rep

The Lewisham People’s Parliament, founded in 2009, is a project that discovers and represents the views of people with learning disabilities in the London Borough of Lewisham.

Six People’s Parliament reps, all people with learning disabilities, are elected by their peers. They are paid to work with a facilitator at Lewisham Speaking Up, an advocacy organisation that runs the project.

The reps decide on a topic that they think is important and then hold a People’s Parliament meeting, where local people with learning disabilities are invited to share their views.

Environmental issues had come up several times in previous discussions, and the reps group decided to focus on the subject to tie in with November’s COP 26 climate summit in Glasgow.

People’s Parliament rep Peter Cronin says: “It’s important to talk about the environment, because things are changing – it’s not so good for the insects and plants. It’s good to learn more about the environment – it can be confusing for people with learning disabilities and we are often left out of talking about things.”

How we tackled this issue – what worked, and what didn’t

Four subject areas related to climate change were chosen by the reps for discussion: global warming, green spaces, air quality and plastic waste. In normal times, we would have a large face to face People’s Parliament meeting and run four workshops on each of the subjects. But because of the pandemic, meeting were held online using Zoom.

One subject was discussed each week in October, leading up to the COP 26 event in November. The timing helped people to focus on what we were talking about, as many were seeing increasing news coverage on environmental issues.

We feel it is important not to shy away from asking people with learning disabilities about big issues. The challenge can be explaining things in an accessible way. Lewisham Speaking up looked at ways to get people with learning disabilities thinking about these different subjects.

Film clips are always popular and can be a good way of starting a discussion. We managed to find clips that were short and not too full of scientific jargon. Not everything worked! One satirical clip that we showed about global warming was a flop.

Guest speakers are also popular, and we were successful in having a guest from the RSPB for our green spaces session, and also a local Councillor who has the role of Air Quality Champion for the borough. Having guests helps bring subjects to life.

Tthinking about explaining a complex issue in a simple way lead us to say climate change is like a person having a high temperature – a change of one or two degrees can make a big difference.

We had feedback from Lewisham’s Climate Resilience Manager saying: “I hadn’t thought about it like that before, it’s a really good way to put it.” So we think a good lesson is that working to make things meaningful for people with learning disabilities makes things more accessible for everyone.

What did people with learning disabilities think about climate issues?

The views that came out of the sessions included:

  • People with learning disabilities are worried about the environment, like a lot of non-disabled people. Some of the issues are hard to understand and simpler, easy-to-read information would help.
  • People with learning disabilities value being out in natural spaces, but they aren’t always as accessible as they could be.
  • Air pollution is a concern for disabled people, but so is the cost of electric vehicles. There is not enough infrastructure in place for electric vehicles to be widely used. Some disabled people need access to a vehicle.
  • Plastic waste needs to be reduced, but people felt it was hard to avoid plastic in their daily lives.
  • On all of the issues we talked about, people recognised that everyone has to take responsibility for making changes. But overall, they felt that the UK Government and governments around the world need to do more to make changes happen.

To find out more about our work visit the Lewisham Speaking Up website or email


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