Designing a regional support structure for local sustainability groups

Local voluntary groups such as Transition initiatives can do excellent work to develop projects around local food, renewable energy and more. But what kind of network and support structure can help them to thrive?

I took part in a really engaging one-day workshop at Graceworks in Leicester on Saturday 17th June that explored that issue. The workshop was led by Richard Couldrey (conducting Masters research on this topic) and Mike Thomas (from the Transition Network). Our workshop focussed on the East Midlands, with people attending from Transition Leicester, Transition Lincoln and groups in Melbourne, Chesterfield, Belper, Horncastle, Loughborough, Market Harborough and Nottingham.

The discussion around what enables and holds back grassroots action brought up a lot of familiar themes, such as the challenge of recruiting volunteers, of good group dynamics making or breaking voluntary projects and how a supportive local authority can be a great help.

Five main themes emerged around what a regional support network might do: linking out to other organisations (either other sectors or on a national/international scale); sharing stories (case studies and otherwise); sharing resources and knowledge; staying connnected; using a Permaculture, systems-thinking ethos to design the network.

My lightbulb moment during the day was about the concept of social learning. That is, I see sharing resources/knowledge/stories and staying connected as two sides of the same coin, in that they are done through relationships and interaction of some sort (whether face-to-face or online). You could call this ongoing process social learning.

As someone looking to support social learning for sustainability in Leicester and the wider region, this reaffirms for me the value of organising face-to-face get togethers and online learning spaces.

Interestingly, we all agreed that catching up was valuable, and yet without the initiative to do so coming from the outside (from the Transition Network), it wasn’t on anyone’s to-do list to organise. I left with the intention of contributing to that “convening” role locally, through this blog and events at DMU.

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.

Read more How to sustain sustainability support projects? Ideas from Sustainable Harborough