Since July 2018 when Adur District Council in West Sussex declared a climate emergency over 300 councils have followed suit (see www.climateemergency.uk). But many have stalled there, lacking the funds, capacity, imagination or resources to take practical next steps. This has left a hole. Polls and surveys show there is a growing awareness of the seriousness of the crisis we face. It is present and real and people are impatient to experience change, as well as be involved in driving transformation forwards. Communities want to see what can be achieved, what their actions can help to create. They are left looking for blueprints for initiatives that they can adapt.
The Climate Emergency Centre (CEC) project was set up in response, to provide a template for groups wanting to start their own projects. Like the Transformative Adaptation collective [see recent issues of Permaculture], whose ideas it can be seen as embodying, the CEC project is a positive response to the crisis.
CECs are focused on building solutions, adaptation and resilience to the multiple environmental and social crises created by our current system. The same system underlies the causes of both the social and environmental crises. With this in mind environmental and social justice groups are encouraged to come together so they can work in the same space, cross-pollinate, learn and grow together.
The three principals at the heart of the CECs are
1 A solution focus – for people and planet
2 A local and inclusive focus on meeting community needs
3 A wider network for mutual support and cooperation
The website- climateemergencycentre.co.uk links to the CEC Handbook, and a 10 -step process to get a community space running. Initially, those interested are advised to put out a call to prospective members. Newly established groups are then advised to split into four working groups – applying to become a legal entity; building a relationship with the local council; finding a building and liaising with building owners; and outreaching to other groups/ individuals. New groups can join a Telegram chat group which meets online on a weekly basis to provide mutual support and advice. Our YouTube channel hosts themed conversations from across the network.
Crucial to the roll out and success of the CECs is a business model that enables property owners to save up to 100% on business rates while temporarily giving a community space using a ‘meanwhile lease’. This allows newly established groups to acquire a free ‘home’ so they can focus on what they want to achieve, rather than on covering costs. So far Councils have also been hugely supportive and several have offered Council-owned buildings for free. In addition, we are also in touch with several land based communities and hope to build an interconnected network of ‘land-based’ centres.
The wider network supports new teams to develop and move more efficiently, by building on the learnings of the network. The project has energised people. We now have approximately 40 teams at various stages of setting up their local CEC. Our vision is of autonomous community-led centres focused on meeting local needs and building local resilience, strengthened by the coordination, support and skill/resource sharing provided by a broader web of centres across the country. This vision is held in the knowledge that people hold the answers, within us and between us, of how to evolve not just to survive, but to thrive.
The impacts of the Project are already being felt. For example, the Space Generators CEC in Redbridge, East London, has a massive warehouse being put to use with an eco-solutions exhibition and a recycle/ reuse market. Space has been made available for cinema nights with the local Transition Town group, and forest garden/ permaculture talks. Lewes CEC opened recently and has been outreaching to the community. It has plans for Great Big Green Week supporting people to get involved, to build the conversation. Find out more through their website https://lewesclimatehub.org/.
Zero – Guildford / CEC zerocarbonguildford.org by Ben McCallan
With time on our hands at the beginning of the UK’s first lockdown a group of us from various local environmental and social groups got together to discuss the problems we were encountering. How could we avoid working in silos and begin to share resources and skills? What was preventing the wider community getting involved in the urgent work needed on the climate and ecological crisis? Why were so many activist organisations focused exclusively on mitigation, demanding change of a system which has failed and is the primary driving force of ecological collapse? And most importantly, how could we all work together to begin building adaptation and resilience into our community, local economy, and the way we live and work.
We felt that a physical space which could act as a focal point for community organising could be a game changer in engaging people from all demographics. Not only would this allow us to increase education on the climate crisis, whilst providing practical local solutions for people to reduce their emissions, it would also help in creating greater community cohesion. We want informed, deliberative decision-making, centred on the fact that everyone in our borough shares one thing in common – we will all be faced with the same physical challenges, and therefore social impacts, of the climate and ecological crisis.
Lockdown caused us delays, but we used the time to register as a charity, gather funding, and most importantly to build a network of groups across the borough. We now have between 40-50 organisations involved in the project in some capacity, contributing to our launch, and being part of an ongoing presence in our CEC. We’ve been amazed by the support locally, with huge assistance from many organisations including the University of Surrey, the local BID, our borough council and some county council departments. Some local businesses are backing us and we haven’t even opened yet! At the time of writing, we are hoping to exchange on our number 1 choice of town centre location, so watch this space!
Talking Tree – Staines / CEC www.talkingtree.org.uk by Suzanne O’Hara
In early 2020 a disparate group of individuals met through their shared interest in the environment and sustainable living. The group wanted to take positive action to tackle climate change in Spelthorne, focussing on actions to minimize waste, reduce consumption, preserve natural open space and raise awareness and understanding of environmental challenges locally. The volunteers agreed that having a physical space would be a key priority, and so the idea for Talking Tree was born. A founding volunteer explained, “We were inspired to name the venue the Talking Tree after the Saxon word for Spelthorne which meant ‘speaking tree’ – a place where different groups would meet to discuss important issues.
The group registered Talking Tree as a Community Interest Company. So all assets are ’locked’ and profits generated are used for the benefit of the community. Having drawn up a business plan, the group approached Spelthorne Council in May 2020, requesting help finding an appropriate building. Spelthorne Council were owners of a vacant retail property in the heart of Staines High Street. The premises had been emptyfor an extended period and the Council saw the benefit in supporting the project to repurpose the building as a positive community space. The team took possession of the keys to property early November and the ensuing months have been a flurry of activity with a core group of volunteer labour hammering, plumbing, plastering and painting to turn a dark betting shop into a versatile community venue.
The venue, which opened on 21st June, centres around an on-site café serving a vegetarian menu ‘with vegan aspirations’, using surplus ingredients whenever possible. The main exhibition and performance space will provide an inspirational programme of arts, film, talks and music performance, while an adjacent meeting room and workshop will host local community groups and classes in practical skills to help participants live more sustainably. A community fridge will give residents access to surplus food from local suppliers and there are plans for a ‘library of things’ in the not-too-distant future.
The entire refurbishment has been completed on a shoe-string with appliances, furniture and equipment mostly donated or salvaged and most labour being donated free of charge by volunteers who support the Talking Tree ethos. Chairs and lampshades were recovered using discarded fabric samples and the beautiful fascia was crafted from the wood hoardings which blocked the doorway of the once derelict building which Talking Tree has transformed.
The Talking Tree volunteer community has already grown to 60+ individuals of varying ages and backgrounds, sharing a huge variety of skills from cooking, to plumbing and website design.
While Covid delayed the opening of the venue, the team did not wait to start making an impact: Talking Tree Community Kitchen swung into action taking surplus produce from local supermarkets, and delivering cooked meals free of charge to the community. The Biodiversity team began a planting project to help increase species diversity and in late March volunteers launched their first Craftivism campaign, creating a swarm of giant handmade fabric bees, highlighting the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill. They also hosted a series of online events including a tree themed art exhibition, a virtual music night, a waste reduction cooking class andbook club nights on environmental topics.
If you have anything you would like to share or contribute then get involved, contact your local team- CEC Network, contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org or donate via our crowdfunder- https://climateemergencycentre.co.uk/donate/.
Let’s use the skills and strengths we have to build a new system of empowered communities, one that recognises the value of community led transformative adaptation.