Climate change affects all of our communities. Big or small, urban or rural, we’re all increasingly impacted by it. And while climate change may seem like an issue too large to tackle, many communities are proving that’s just not the case. 

In fact, in England’s Cheltenham a group is working in partnership, and using community engagement, to achieve net-zero carbon emissions in Cheltenham by 2030. We recently interviewed CheltenhamZero’s partnership leads to hearing more about their work to push forward the climate agenda locally. Ready to get inspired? 

Q: What prompted you to launch the CheltenhamZero community engagement platform?

A: We wanted to raise awareness and educate communities about the effects of climate change. Plus, we hope to involve more people in climate action so they can collaborate. This started with a partnership between our local authority – Cheltenham Borough Council (a district council) – and the organization Vision21 Gloucestershire to bring together as many people as possible across different sectors – business, private, public, and community- to form a partnership that could collectively tackle climate change. 

We chose to host our work on the CitizenLab platform to keep information clear and organised and also to offer the community multiple ways to engage, such as through citizen proposals. 

Q: Has the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), which aims to “accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change”, inspired your work? 

A: We see COP26 as an important milestone in tackling global warming at the global and government level. We hope to see investment in true change, and think COP26 could be a vehicle to raise public awareness and encourage everyone to really start thinking about climate change beyond “business as usual”.

We’ve sent two representatives to the conference to help us keep a pulse on new developments in the field, and are also proud that our local government representatives are using our methodology to promote community engagement. We offer a unique model that helps rally everybody together – so far, across 50 organizations and growing. So, it’s refreshing to know that our model is being so prominently shared as a success story with other climate leaders at COP26. 

Q: What are you hoping to achieve? 

A: We have a number of projects already. For instance, we purchased a building in town to sustainably renovate and use for meetings for youth planet ambassadors, families, and other group gatherings.

Domestic UK CO2 emissions have not fallen very much at all. With that in mind, what we’re trying to achieve are mindset and lifestyle changes in our community. Nobody is talking about that yet. By sharing information and good practices, and showing how they can be replicated across levels – government, public, community, business – we hope to show people that we each have a role to play in tackling climate change. 

Q: What role do you think community engagement can play in tackling climate change? 

A: The more people that recognize what is happening, the better. That’s why we share so much information on our platform – it creates a groundswell of understanding and solidarity, and hopefully that also leads to politicians getting more truly engaged on this.

But the key with community engagement on climate is to approach it in bite-sized pieces so that it doesn’t feel too big to tackle. It’s okay if some things start at a small scale; for instance, when we first started promoting recycling in homes, we couldn’t have imagined it would become a social norm in years to come the way that it has. Community engagement is the key to bringing people along with us in these changes. 

Recycling bin
Recycling has become a social norm

Q: What’s next for your engagement process? 

A: We’re still in the early stages of developing our community engagement platform, so what’s next is continuing to build up a network of people interested in this effort and creating a knowledge bank for them to easily access.

We’ve already shared some ideas on the platform so they can inspire people into action. In time we also hope residents and stakeholders will suggest original ideas and projects using the proposals function, and that they can use the platform to link up with people interested in working together on different initiatives. 

Q: Do you have any lessons learned or good practices you’d like to share with others working on climate issues? 

A: Take your time and plan out your steps. Involving a number of people, all moving at different speeds and levels of understanding, isn’t easy but it’s important not to leave anybody behind when you do things in partnership. Climate action is a long game, but we all have to move forward together. 

Q: Speaking of which, can you say more about why partnership is so central to your model?

A: When we engage different parts of our community, we tap into knowledge from different backgrounds and experiences so everyone has a say. A lot of people want to do something about climate change, but they don’t know where to start.

By working in partnership, we’ve been able to create projects that touch multiple parts of our community and don’t just involve various perspectives but also create impact at different levels. For instance, our Project Reclaim is a used furniture project that empowers people who have low incomes. The program trains people and gets them job-ready with skills in furniture repair, sales, delivery, and customer service and at the same time, we help upcycle items that otherwise would have ended up in a landfill. 

Check out CheltenhamZero’s community engagement platform and get inspired to launch your own climate action initiative today. 

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