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How to bring people, ideas and information together to make positive change

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Emily Fifield is Community Project Manager at Eastside Community Trust, a community hub working to make East Bristol a place of possibility for everyone and one of six community partners working on the Community Climate Action Project. Eastside was selected to participate in the first cohort of Media Trust’s Weston Communicating Climate training programme.

When we began the coproduction process for our Community Climate Action Plan, our communities were emerging from lockdown and feeling overwhelmed, anxious and under an incredible amount of stress. Who, aside from already converted climate warriors, would want to talk about the climate crisis when life already felt so heavy and out of control?

If we were going to bring new voices into a conversation about climate action, it was going to be a balancing act of making the topic feel important and urgent enough for people to give it their attention, while not making it seem so big and complex that people felt it wasn’t even worth trying.

We weren’t – and still aren’t – experts on climate change, but what any community organisation worth their salt does know is how to bring people, ideas and information together to make positive change. We took this knowledge and combined it with resources like the Weston Communicating Climate course, guides and reports from Climate Outreach and support from technical partners across the city to develop an approach that has helped us open up the conversation and inspire a wide range of people to take climate action together in our community. These are some of our key learnings:

Link climate action to people’s daily lives

This means listening to our communities and then building links between the issues that are most important to them and climate action, whether it’s the rising cost of living, access to jobs or the health of our children. This also means highlighting the close connection between our community’s health and a healthy planet, rather than framing it as an either/or. When people feel they have to choose between their family’s wellbeing or the environment, climate action can quickly feel out of reach.

Lose the lingo, or explain it

Avoid technical language when it’s unnecessary, and explain it when it is. A lot of the time jargon is just jargon and can be cut out completely, but there can be value in building familiarity with terms like “home energy retrofit” and “green jobs”. Providing concrete examples and showing how they’re relevant to people’s lives can help equip our communities with the knowledge and language needed to access new opportunities.

Build a positive vision of what’s possible if we act now

Rather than taking a doomsday approach we focussed on highlighting positive actions that are already happening, especially at a local level, and showing the difference we can still make to reduce the impacts of climate change if we act now. This helps shift and maintain momentum and show people they’re a part of something bigger, not swimming alone against an insurmountable tide.

Help people to see themselves as part of the solution

We’re all starting at different points, but everyone has an important role to play in tackling the climate crisis. Many of the people we spoke with didn’t see themselves as part of climate action at first, but soon began identifying things they already did that were good for the environment, like growing food and sharing things with friends and neighbours rather than everyone buying new. Celebrating these actions and traditions, telling stories and using images of people and places that represent a broad cross section of our community rather than stock photos can help change perceptions of who is part of the solution, opening up more space for more people to share a diversity of ideas and experiences.

Meet people where they’re at

Just as important as developing the message is making sure it gets where it needs to go by thinking through who we want to reach and how they get their information. For our community, this meant everything from a regular climate radio hour on BCfm featuring community voices, a climate edition and updates in Up Our Street magazine, Freedom Kids Podcast made by children at Felix Road Adventure Playground, community noticeboards, social media and whatsapp groups, art, leaflets, and, of course, getting out and talking to people face-to-face in places where they felt most comfortable, rather than asking them to come to us.

Eastside Community Trust are one of six community organisations who have been co-producing Community Climate Action plans over the past year. Come along to our event on Wednesday 15 June 1.30-3pm to find out how to apply their learning in your own community.

Community-led climate action
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