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Communities Living Sustainably Groundwork

A reflection - CLS celebrations across the UK

Posted on 10 November 2016

Middlesborough, Middlesborough College - Tuesday 1 November 2016

Well, it’s over. We held our final CLS Legacy event last week in Middlesbrough and it was a really good one to end on.

I must confess I was finding it hard to gear myself up for this one; after the slight internal hysteria of holding London and Manchester within days of each other, we were able to pause for breath before the final North East event.

As it turned out, it was a great day – the venue was brilliant, the food was amazing, and the quality of presentations and conversation on the day was exemplary. I get the impression Middlesbrough is quite often in the business of confounding expectations. As ever the project slots were the highlight; it was also heartening to hear Peter Kelly from Public Health England talk so impassionately about why this activity needed to be at the heart of public health. Also of excitement was the fact that the delicious vegetarian buffet was part of Growing Middlesbrough, the local food partnership driven by One Planet Middlesbrough. As we all took away takeaway boxes of leftovers at the end, I really felt that this was CLS in action.

Each of the CLS events has been unique and despite them all following the same format have felt very different in terms of content and themes. I couldn’t be more pleased about this – if anything has characterised CLS it has been the variety and breadth of activity the projects have delivered, and the specific local focus. It just wouldn’t have been right to have cookie-cutter events replaying the same speeches and conversations.

Putting on these events has been quite an adventure and has brought its share of heightened levels of cortisol, but I think it has been really valuable to bring hundreds of people together and place conversations in a wider context. It is a testament to the achievements of the projects that had we had twice as many events running for twice as long we would still only have scratched the surface of the learning, the legacy and what we should be demanding as CLS starts to wrap up. The task now falls to us to draw together all of these ideas into a report that attempts to do justice to the projects. Watch this space!

Manchester, Bridge 5 Mill - Wednesday 19 October 2016

I don’t know if it’s something about the women of Greater Manchester but the two CLS projects that presented at the Manchester celebration event last week managed to steal the show.

Jacqueline from Real Food Wythenshawe nearly gave me a heart attack when she announced that she would not be using the pre-prepared powerpoint that was all ready to go but she was instead going to read something she had stayed up writing the night before. I’m so glad that she did because her speech was heartfelt, inspiring and conveyed more about CLS than facts and figures and programme outputs ever could, impressive though they are. When she concluded by saying ‘it’s not a job anymore, it’s a way of life’ I think that resonated with a lot of people in the room.

Diane from Irwell Valley also jettisoned her powerpoint, talking instead of her own experiences with the Broughton Trust and how they coped with the frontline of climate change when the Irwell burst its banks on Boxing Day. She spoke candidly without notes and with an ease that belied her nerves, as well as showing their video ‘The one in one hundred year flood?’ Both women had brought props, too. Real Food Wythenshawe lined the walls with the pictures from their ‘Turn and face the change’ exhibition, 22 portraits and stories of individual people involved in the project. And I was very pleased to walk away with an Irwell Valley calendar for next year!

I have to mention the venue, Bridge 5 Mill, which felt like the perfect fit for CLS. It’s a converted silk mill that now stands as Manchester’s centre for sustainable living. Lovingly restored, we were made to feel very welcome and furnished with delicious organic biscuits, ale and cider. A real gem.

Communities Living Sustainably - Groundwork UK

We were pleased to be joined by Tessa Wiley from Big Lottery Fund, whose passion for the programme was evident from her speech, and by a panel from different sectors reflecting on how we might implement some of this great learning in the future. We were more pleased still to have such lively, challenging contributions from the floor that ensured the event became a conversation rather than a lecture. CLS is about people and is only as good as who you’ve got in the room; on 19 October we had a room full of great people.

London, The Crystal -  Friday 14 October 2016

Nearly a week on I still feel in a bit of a daze when I think about last week’s CLS legacy celebration in London.

It’s hard to think remotely objectively about something that’s dominated my working life for months and was over in a few short hours. The morning set-up went smoothly and by 11:30 all that was left to do was sit in anticipation, pondering unknowns: Would anyone turn up? Would people ask sensible questions? Just how good would the spring rolls be?

In the event, we had a good, lively crowd with plenty to say and the spring rolls – and all the food – was exceptional. Being at the Crystal, with its dazzling facilities and state of the art sustainable technology, set CLS in an exciting context and provided a tangible vision of what a sustainable future could involve.

Communities Living Sustatinably - Groundwork UK

Sustainability, of course, is really all about people and it was the contributions from our speakers, panellists and audience that made the day worthwhile. It was great to have the Chief Executive of Big Lottery Fund reflecting on the legacy of the programme and how it has influenced the future strategy of the organisation. Her quote ‘the best experts have dirty shoes’ encapsulated a lot of the learning of the programme.

Graham Duxbury, CEO of Groundwork UK, had the challenge of summing up the learning from five years’ worth of activity across the country in just a few minutes. There is always more to say, of course, but the overall message was that community groups can play a pivotal role in tackling some of the big environmental challenges facing the country but their efforts need to be supported by local authorities, government agencies and funders if they’re going to have a lasting impact.

This was borne out by the presentations from Candida from CLS in Dorset and Gavin from Sustainable Harborough, projects that have achieved some remarkable accomplishments and their stimulating speeches did the programme proud. Our panellists Debbie Ladds, Agamemnon Otero and Sue Sheehan provided some useful insights into the wider context and where we go from here. One central point was that it’s not always about innovation – to build on what we’ve got we need to see more scale, replication and funding what works. Agamemnon spoke provocatively about how fundamental the effects of climate change will be. This cut to the heart of CLS: this is important, urgent work.

It already feels like a distant memory, but the hard work and achievements of CLS projects will live on far longer than the canapes and PowerPoint slides.

To find out more about the Communities Living Sustainably programme please click here. 

Posts by Roxanne Green 

Programmes Officer at Groundwork UK