How to sustain sustainability support projects? Ideas from Sustainable Harborough

For some time I’ve been interested in what it is about a community that helps or hinders initiatives to promote sustainable living. What I mean here isn’t how our context can help us to live a greener life, such as how doorstep orange bag collections make it easier to recycle household waste in Leicester. I mean how the organisations and initiatives that create an enabling environment to help us make greener lifestyle choices are set up and sustained. You could call these organisations and initiatives “enablers”. These “enablers” might be local authorities funding cycle lanes or setting up compostable waste collections, charities running events or workshops that bring people together to learn and share knowledge, and much more. So, how can these enabling initiatives be set up and sustained?

Our event on Thursday April 6th 2017 explored this question, with Gavin Fletcher (pictured) sharing the experience of Sustainable Harborough. Sustainable Harborough is a voluntary sector organisation employing four staff over five years to support the development of projects to make Market Harborough a more resilient town in terms of energy, food, water and wildlife.

Everyone present at the event lived or worked in Leicester, so our goal was to reflect on the extent to which Leicester is an enabling environment for sustainability initiatives, and what we could do or change if not.

During my eleven years in Leicester, I’ve seen Leicester’s qualities as an enabling environment change in many ways… climate change has risen and fallen on the political agenda, nationally and locally; Environ/Groundwork, a key local sustainable development charity, was wound up a few years ago; Transition Leicester emerged in 2008, seeding several projects that are still going; we’ve also seen political change, with a switch to a directly-elected Mayor, giving Peter Soulsby greater autonomy to support environmental projects. This has all been against a backdrop of a national austerity agenda, affecting the funding available to our local council and for voluntary sector projects.

Our discussion flagged up a few key things:

  • We noted that opportunities to come together like this were rare and appreciated. I affirmed that DMU, as part of its commitment to promoting our city, could offer more events like this to provide a platform for reflection and discussion
  • We noted that a lot was still happening, but it was challenging to keep abreast of it – did this matter?
  • Finding a way in to environmental initiatives seemed challenging – there wasn’t a first port of call for volunteering. This was a function that Groundwork and Transition Leicester used to play.

As a follow-up, a subgroup volunteered to get together to plan out some green networking events. And for my part and many people present it affirmed the value of keeping this event series going – I’d be keen to hear ideas for topics for discussion in the Autumn.

Further Resources

Gavin Fletcher talk (PDF)

Recording of Gavin Fletcher’s presentation (audio, video, slides: 23 mins)

Andrew Reeves Presentation (PDF)