The power of community

By Cara Waudby Tolley | July 12, 2022

Sarah Dawson meets the small grassroots groups that are making a big difference to the environment. Find your community today!

Wanting to make a positive contribution to the environment doesn’t mean trying to change the world single-handedly. Knowing how to take steps to help tackle the climate crisis can feel overwhelming, but look closer to home and you may find the answers. Communities across the UK are taking matters into their own hands, with grassroots schemes dedicated to improving the area and the lives of local residents becoming an increasingly popular way to inspire change in a hands-on way.

Even the smallest neighbourhood schemes can have a transformative effect on wellbeingand the environment. Community environmental projects make a big difference on so many levels, not just improving the local area. These groups are a great way of inspiring others to take care of the world around them, offering an easy way to be pro-active in bringing about change where they live.

The social side is equally important, bringing residents together to create new relationships, ease loneliness, boost confidence, learn new skills and get active.

Get involved

All across the UK there are thousands of fantastic community projects for you to get involved in. A great way to make an instant difference, make new friends and enjoy the outdoors is by joining a litter picking group. CleanUp UK has lots of information on local groups you can join, as well as how to go about setting up your own litter-picking team.

If you live by the sea, there are plenty of beach clean-up groups to get involved with – check out the Marine Conservation Society website for nearby coastal litter picks or tips on organising your own. The satisfaction when you’re left with a clean beach or park, bags of litter and a group of new friends after just a few hours is immeasurable.

Inspired after joining her daughter on a school climate strike in 2019, Lisa Johnson felt compelled to take action. “I’d always been mildly eco-conscious, but that day I felt outraged that we were all sleep walking further into this climate crisis without anyone really doing enough. I immediately joined up with Transition Wilmslow, a local group full of wonderful, passionate people who were doing ‘something’”.

Lisa now works hard to get the rest of her community involved: “We want to engage all of the people in our town, to help them to do more to mitigate climate change in a fun way, with do-able actions and without being preachy.”

Together, in 2021, the group held the month-long Festival of Nature, packed with free events like bike rides, sustainable fashion shows and more, with the highlight being a free, zero-carbon, pedal-powered music festival. “It was called On Yer Bike, and I arranged for Bez to headline – he danced on stage with the kids and did a Mad-chester DJ set, but also talked about the climate crisis.” The success of the festival means the group are doing it all again this year; “bigger and better!” adds Lisa. “There will be free walks, talks, bike rides, poetry, food, cinema, tree-planting. We want everyone to have fun while spreading the important message that we all need to step up now.”

Hertfordshire-based Vicky Saynor volunteers as a Waste Warrior for her local council. “My role involves going out into the community to educate and support local groups on food waste and composting, and create opportunities to engage the public to make changes.” Vicky is passionate about making a difference locally and has found it’s the youngest members of the community who are excited about the message. “

I ran a session at my children’s school about wormeries and how we can turn our food waste into compost – it created a real buzz.” With the whole school community inspired, the aim is to turn the school into a Zero Waste School. “We have big plans and it’s so exciting!” shares Vicky. “We’re converting 10 council bins into wormeries, educating on food waste, recycling all rubbish, creating composting systems, planting a wildflower meadow, installing bumble bee villas and harvesting all rainwater from downpipes.”

Thrifty business

It was the sight of a beautiful vintage chair dumped in her local tip, that spurred Kate Tynan, from Marple, Greater Manchester, to set up her own community group. “It made me think ‘why has that just been thrown away?’

It could so easily have been loved by someone else rather than ending up in landfill.” So Kate launched the Marple Thrift Shop Facebook group, where local people could give things away for free instead of taking them to the tip. In just a few years it’s grown to over 2,700 members and over 2,000 items are thrifted each year. “This ranges from books, clothes and toys, to large items of furniture and even pianos, all given away for free!” adds Kate.

Clearly tapping into a desire to see items find a new home rather than end up in landfill, the group has grown so quickly that Kate now has a team of six who help run it – affectionately known as ‘The Witches
of Thriftwick’. “There is one lady in particular, Sheila, who is an absolute star. Everyone knows her!” smiles Kate. “She upcycles items and also collects old blankets to make into dog beds. She helps make the group what it is.”

Kate believes the impact the group has had on the community is huge. “We’ve stopped things going to landfill, helped furnish the homes of people just starting out or in vulnerable situations, organised loans for items – like a wheelbarrow – reducing waste, and many friendships have been formed. It’s encouraged the community to get to know each other and help each other.”

Lisa agrees that community groups can make a big difference to local residents: “Without a doubt, the group and the festival has made those who were sitting on the fence about the climate crisis take notice and do more. The feeling of belonging, with people who are on the same page as you, is just so rewarding,” she shares. “To get more people involved, who might otherwise have not known where to start, is a good feeling.”

River cleaning, repair cafés, rewilding projects, wildlife protection schemes; there are so many different groups to get involved in, but if you can’t find one in your area, why not start one up yourself? Vicky is certain you won’t regret it: “The sense of achievement that you’re making a difference in your community is amazing. And any small changes people make to help our environment is a positive step forward.”

About the author

Sarah Dawson is a freelance writer who lives in a beautiful village in the Leicestershire countryside.