What type of support could hubs provide to most effectively enable community and individual climate action?
Respondents to the ‘Request for Information’ identified many different forms of support that they believed a regional hub could provide to help communities actively participate in climate action.
1) Facilitate co-ordination and collaboration
It is clear that, for many respondents, “collaboration is key” to delivering the objectives of community climate action. Therefore, a central role hubs could play is to support the development of new and existing networks and collaborations between regional stakeholders from public, private and third sectors:
“An approach which brings together community with local authorities, agencies and community councils which have a key role in local planning, transport, development, energy, waste, agriculture and the environment.”
It was suggested that hubs could help provide “the essential link between the public, relevant stakeholders and political decision makers” and enable “area-wide partnerships with joined up thinking”. The value of coordinating community action with local and national government strategies and policies was particularly highlighted as a valuable role for hubs. For example, ensuring alignment with local authority community planning priorities, place-based local development plans and Local Heat and Energy Efficiency Strategies (LHEES).
Respondents suggested that, in creating links to wider national campaigns, hubs will not only help community groups set a direction that aligns with national priorities, but will also allow communities and individuals see that they are part of a national and international effort to address the climate emergency:
“It is also extremely important that communities feel they are not working in isolation and that at regional, national and international levels work is also being done.”
Another key coordination role identified for hubs was to help reach communities that are currently not engaged in climate change issues. Several respondents highlighted the risk that, if the focus of the hubs is too narrow, this can result in “carbon blinders”, in which only those people and organisations already engaged in action on climate change are attracted and included. Therefore, it was underlined many times that hubs must engage proactively and widely, to break down barriers to involvement and nurture local interest, including with BAME communities and young people.
It was also noted by several respondents that a useful function of the hubs could be to draw together and maintain an online regional database of organisations and initiatives involved in community climate action, which could be easily accessed by all relevant stakeholders.
2) Empower local organisations & networks
Another key aspect of the hubs that was noted throughout the responses was that these are well connected to, and understand, local communities and organisations. It was suggested that the hubs should “tie into current activities where possible” and be as locally-focused as possible, “to relate, and be meaningful, to daily life and to provide local solutions to local needs”. Consequently, many of the responses emphasised that hubs should build on and support organisations and networks that are already established and embedded in local areas, rather than start from scratch:
“Ideally hubs would build on work of existing trusted community anchor organisations which can support local action with real local knowledge and understanding."
Respondents identified anchor organisations, such as, development trusts and housing associations, and networks such as Community Planning Partnerships and Scottish Community Alliance, which already have strong connections within communities that could be tapped into to support wide community engagement on climate change:
“..there are more synergistic benefits to supporting groups who are already delivering good outreach work in their community and embedding the climate change message into their models.”
In terms of supporting community engagement and participation on climate change, respondents suggested “it is good to start from where there is already interest and work out from there”: Lots of different types of local networks and groups were identified as important to engage in the work of the hubs, including, youth work, the arts and cultural sectors, sports groups, voluntary organisations. A key role for the hubs would be engaging with a diversity of local groups and “dovetailing the climate engagement message around already existing delivery”.
A point raised several times by respondents was the potential for the hubs to be a “one stop shop” that takes a holistic approach to community action and development and ensures support for climate action intersects with other concerns:
“Any new approach needs to be integrated with other aspects of development – climate change mustn’t be seen as a standalone issue.”
This includes connecting climate change with other environmental issues, such as biodiversity, waste, and water, as well as with wider social, cultural and economic issues, such as land reform, social justice, and wellbeing.
3) Foster knowledge exchange
Many respondents saw value in climate action hubs connecting key stakeholders to foster “learning and local knowledge creation and exchange”:
“A central task of the regional hub should be to promote and enable the exchange ideas and experiences across their region as well as nationally so that organisations can learn from each other.”
Particularly highlighted in the responses was the importance of fostering peer-to-peer learning and sharing of ideas and experiences between community groups:
“Whilst every community is unique, being in touch with other similar projects (in terms of size, experience, focus) to share experiences, ideas, suggestions has real advantages. It often feels like community projects have to reinvent the wheel…”
Respondents noted the role that hubs could play in helping to strengthen links between groups by sharing and promoting best practice and celebrating success. Several respondents suggested this could be delivered through creating “strong digital communities” and online discussion forums. It was also suggested that hubs could help set up visits to more established community groups to see how projects are being delivered. As one respondent put it: “seeing is believing”.
Another common suggestion was the potential for hubs to facilitate buddy or mentor relationships between experienced, successful groups and new initiatives, to enable practical knowledge transfer and build confidence, capacity and efficiency:
“Having a more experienced organisation share their expertise, resources and files including organisational policies, HR documents and financial management knowledge would have enabled more seamless and effective delivery from the offset.”
It was identified that a key role for hubs could be to signpost, collate, and distribute this kind of practical information, including, templates, toolkits, how-to guides, case studies and other tried-and-tested materials and resources for community groups, which could be tailored to reflect the distinct needs of individual communities.
4) Education, guidance, and training
As well as supporting peer-to-peer knowledge exchange, respondents suggested ways in which hubs could also facilitate learning and development more directly, noting that “Education and awareness is a core element of the global response to climate change”.
Many identified a role for hubs in providing training sessions, workshops, and “regular educational events”. The most commonly cited suggestion was for hubs to deliver ‘climate literacy’ courses at different levels:
“We have been in discussion with partners about the need for climate/carbon literacy and there is strong support locally for a concerted push on this. The proposed hubs would play a key role.”
In addition to climate literacy, a range of other skills and subjects were identified for the hubs to deliver training on, from communication, public engagement, and leadership, to installing electric vehicle charging points and domestic energy efficiency measures.
There was also a call for hubs to be able to answer questions directly and provide access to professional, trusted, expert advice and support to community groups. It was suggested that this may be delivered in part via an online portal, but supplemented with regular face to face meetings with dedicated, skilled advisers/sponsors that can mentor groups. This could include support with technical aspects of project and people management, as well as feedback and guidance on ideas or projects.
Respondents highlighted the potential value of a physical centre for the hub which, when pandemic-related restrictions allow, could be a place to host workshops and training sessions and could also serve as a drop-in centre for people to go to for information and advice. Respondents noted that it is important that hubs are safe spaces for people to learn, explore their concerns, and understand issues. Therefore, the advice and support provided must be “accessible and user-friendly”, “free of jargon, easy to understand and not overwhelming”.
5) Awareness raising, communications, and recognition
Hubs were seen as presenting an opportunity to “be bolder in the way that we communicate the real emergency of climate change” and help raise awareness of climate change and emission reduction targets.
As well as raising awareness of climate change itself, the hubs were also identified as having a role to play in communicating the value of community climate action. This would include promoting the work of community groups locally among new audiences, for example, by supporting local influencers to “champion climate action and rally enthusiasm for initiatives” with the aim of encouraging a wider embrace the climate action agenda. In addition, hubs could play a role as a “voice for small environmental groups at a national level” to communicate the needs of communities to governments and inform policy.
It was suggested that part of this communications work is in creating “strong branding and marketing”, communicating vision and values for the climate movement that people will be able to buy in to. Another key aspect would be in publicising inspirational examples of what is being achieved by communities. This would not only help improve outreach and engagement for these initiatives, but it would also celebrate and recognise the hard work of individuals and groups, which can be important for sustaining motivation:
“Nobody wants to be soldiering on alone, especially when it comes to tackling complex problems like climate change. The knowledge that others in the area and region are working together helps galvanise further action across the area. It is a positive feedback loop.”
There was also the suggestion of the integration of some form awards scheme into the work of the hubs, to formally recognise skills and achievements – including a specific youth awards to encourage engagement from young people.
6) Access to funding
Another common role identified for the hubs was to help communities identify and apply for funding, from “micro grants” to large, multi-year funds:
“Point communities in the direction of funding and help them apply.”
The process of applying for funding was described by several respondents as “complicated”, “time consuming” and “onerous”, and therefore a potential role of the hubs is to provide help with making funding applications, “especially new groups who always struggle with this skill at first”.
Several respondents noted how valuable even very small amounts of funding can be for getting community projects off the ground. Consequently, there were calls for hubs to provide a simple and straightforward way to obtain seed funding for groups to “start their carbon journey”. One suggestion was to establish a funding stream specifically designed to get communities started, targeted at the types of activities that have proved successful in the past.
Respondents suggested that these small start-up grants should be relatively “light touch” (in terms of both the volume of paperwork required in the application process and the management from the funder) to improve accessibility and allow communities to get the most of the funding:
“The accessibility of this micro funding is important as groups often have to spend a disproportionate amount of time in applying for a couple of hundred pounds.”
It was suggested that groups also need access to larger development grants (greater than the £500 development grants available through the CCF) “to enable communities to fully develop project ideas” and encourage more ambitious projects.
Many respondents highlighted the role that a hub could play in helping community groups access longer-term funding for core costs, particularly paid staff. It was suggested that “extended periods of funding are a key part of the solution” as it would increase the potential impact of projects and encourage more communities to take action:
“Longer term funding including realistic contributions to organisations core costs will increase the number of organisations willing to undertake community climate action projects.”
Linked to this, several respondents noted the importance of helping groups access “continuation funding” for successful projects to allow them to endure, evolve and extend beyond the initial grant period:
“Without the appropriate funding many projects similar to ourselves will risk losing the skill sets, knowledge, and the positive inroads made into community low carbon behaviours developed through the initial investment.”
In addition to accessing grant funding, there were calls for support with alternative sources of finance, including, community-owned assets and income generation, crowd funding, share offers, and private partnerships.
7) Conduct research
The final major role that multiple respondents recognised for hubs was to support and carry out research with community climate groups. It was suggested that hubs should guide communities through the ongoing cycle of learning-through-doing:
“[Hubs] should see themselves as setting out to enable their local communities to learn how to mitigate climate change by taking action, reflecting upon it and its outcomes and, on that basis, deciding on their next set of actions in a continuous learning cycle.”
There was also a call for hubs to collect and analyse data themselves and publish and disseminate findings. In particular, several respondents suggested that hubs could develop a framework or mechanism for measuring impact and success which could be easily and effectively applied consistently across community projects to allow for knowledge to be generated on what works.
Respondents also suggested hubs could run demonstration sites and feasibility studies where people can test and learn new ways of doing things and then replicate these, adapted to their particular needs.
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