Working on community climate action: the local authority context
24th January 2023
Mark Leach is a Project Manager in Bristol City Council’s Climate Change team and has been involved in the Community Climate Action Project since the beginning. He helped shape the original bid, in particular ensuring it was rooted firmly in grassroots best practice from Bristol’s community anchor organisations to put local people ‘in the driving seat’. In this blog he shares some of his highlights and learnings from phase 1, and looks forward to phase 2.
Our team’s work on the Community Climate Action Project is part of a wider programme of engagement on climate action with citizens and communities with my colleague Ian Solomon-Kawall, to make it more effective, more just and inclusive, and at greater scale, implementing the policies of the Mayor. Ultimately my work reports to the cabinet member for Waste, Energy, Climate & Ecology, Councillor Kye Dudd who you can watch talking about the Community Climate Action Project here.
Working up this programme has meant lots of learning from and listening to a wide range of people and organisations from leading climate comms expertise such as Climate Outreach and CAST to those with lived experience especially people or communities excluded, ignored, or even disadvantaged by climate action to date.
We’re starting to produce some great engagement, for example these fantastic Climate Action stories, and we wouldn’t be where we are now without our fantastic community partners.
I focus on where support is needed from the council and take on the role of broker, connector, and problem-solver, enabling the community partners to navigate the complex ecosystem of the council, whilst advocating internally for the project. It definitely helps that my background is in community development as well as climate change.
I work with managers to keep Councillors informed and up to date and getting officers from a range of services across the council around the table. There are three things you are looking for: people with relevant roles, willingness, and capacity to engage with and support community partners.
With ongoing budget challenges for most councils, this is becoming increasingly challenging. However as we begin to demonstrate time savings on a longer term basis due to buy-in and engagement from communities, we hope this may go some way to mitigate this.
The story so far
As we move into phase 2 of the Community Climate Action Project I’ve been reflecting on phase 1. Highlights have included the community climate action plan peer review event at the Watershed, the visit of the national Climate Change Committee, Eastside Community Trust’s Freedom Kids Podcasts and the six climate action hero stories which became part of a wider series of short films, giving platforms for the communities. Plus Bristol Green Capital Partnership trialling a co-production approach throughout, as outlined by Suzanne from Lockleaze Neighbourhood Trust here, which I’m looking forward to building on in phase 2.
My top tips to other council teams working on this
- Use your assets. The first port of call needs to be the Community Development service within the local authority. A co-benefit following this can be capacity building with Community Development with regards to climate knowledge, and within the climate team about community knowledge. In Bristol, Community Development colleagues are always working with communities across the city to innovate and that’s got so much potential to benefit the programme.
“All climate workers are community workers and all community workers are climate workers” – Donna Sealey, Ambition Lawrence Weston
- Work with your corporate external communications colleagues to use council channels to amplify voices from communities.
- Build a relationship directly with the community partners building mutual trust and respect.
- Communicate expertise both ways. One thing we’ve learned over many years is that community organisations aren’t always aware of the level of expertise and experience within the different service areas within councils, but tend to overestimate capacity. And professionals often underestimate the knowledge and value community organisations can offer. In this role it’s up to you to work with officers to develop understanding all round.
Whilst it may be too soon to have proved the outcomes, we have all the right people and I do think this approach could offer opportunities for other areas, other councils, and other partnerships beyond Bristol. We’re going to be working up more ways to share our experiences with councils and other organisations wanting to work with communities in this way, such as the Insights Report.
Watch this short video to hear why Councillor Kye Dudd, Cabinet member for Climate, Ecology, Waste and Energy at Bristol City Council, thinks community-led climate action is important, and what he is most excited about phase 2 of the Community Climate Action Project.