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Getting People Involved
The experience of community groups from around the country shows that working together brings results. Whether you want to clean up a patch of land, build a new community centre, or create local jobs, you need support. The first step is getting together with other people to share ideas and concerns.
If you're keen to get your local community involved, make sure that you do give everyone a chance to have their say. There are all sorts of groups of people who are usually under-represented in such discussions, including young people, old people, parents with young children, ethnic communities and people with disabilities. Take some time to think about who your local community includes and work out how you can make it as inclusive as possible. Inclusive means effective.
Getting Down to Real Work
The bottom line for any 'sustainable community' is making sure that people's basic needs are being taken care of. If someone is homeless or has had their electricity cut off, they're unlikely to join in a project to clean up the local river.
First, most people need to make sure they have a way of earning a living. Agenda 21 talks about the right to a 'sustainable livelihood'. Getting a job is seen as the key to this. But decent jobs are in short supply and the ones on offer sometimes seem neither very secure or offer much in the way of a livelihood.
There's a common view that people without a job must be unemployed - and therefore relying on outside support without giving anything back to society. Most people who don't have a paid job are still carrying out real work, though. For example, parents bring up their children. People may look after their elders. They may be volunteering - or simply helping out. There are ways in which community based schemes recognise the value of this real work. For example, Local Exchange and Trading Schemes (LETSchemes) enable people to trade their time and expertise without using money.
Other people have got involved in local food production or woodland management projects... perhaps even moving on to getting involved in a community cafe or charcoal production. Typically the community based organisations people form to run these enterprises are co-operatives - where the workers (and sometimes the customers) share the profits.
Everyone needs to travel - to get to work, the shops, school or simply for fun. A lot of the time, though, people feel there's no alternative to using their car. Sometimes they're right. But more cars, means more congestion, more pollution, more roads and less green space and fresh air.
Safer routes for walking and cyclists can encourage people to travel with less environmental damage. Reliable and well-publicised public transport links that are integrated (so you can get off the bus, for example, outside the train station) can help too. Community groups in rural areas and those serving people with special needs have set up community transport schemes based on minibuses for example.
The object is enable better access to the things people need, without them having to travel so far to get them. Town planning has a part to play: why not build shops, for example, where people can walk to them, rather than zoning them out of town. Community groups have frequently been involved in campaigns - increasingly successful - to keep services local and accessible.
'Pollution' makes you think of chemical factories and sinking oil tankers. But litter, derelict cars, ponds choked with rubbish and engine oil running down the drain are all forms of pollution. And don't forget noise - a form of pollution that annoys more and more people each year according to figures from environmental health officers. A dirty, polluted, noisy environment is depressing: a sign that people don't care. Yet there are plenty of examples where local people have cleaned up - it can be done!
The local council is responsible for cleaning the streets. But it's local people (and their dogs) who are responsible for making them dirty. Clean-up campaigns make the most impact when the people involved in them are also the people who might otherwise be responsible for the pollution in the first place. If you've spent time clearing up an area, you are much less likely to be so careless about it in future. Getting people to take part for whatever reason (make it for charity, or part of a carnival competition) is the key to a sustainable improvement.
Noise pollution can be a real problem. Whether it's noisy neighbours or the roar of traffic, those responsible are often the last to realise the misery they are causing. The most important first step is to recognise that there is a shared problem.
Energy - Saving it and Using It
Everyone uses energy - to travel and to heat and light our homes. Almost all the energy we use causes some form of pollution - whether it's nuclear waste or acid rain, vehicle exhaust fumes or carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global climate change. Saving energy doesn't just cut pollution - it saves money as well. For people on low incomes, that's important. Poorer households tend to live in hard-to-heat homes, spending up to 40% of their disposable income trying to keep warm.
If there's one group which is probably short of money in your area, it's probably your community organisation! If you're running a building, start by looking at how you heat it. A simple energy audit that looks at your bills, heating systems and insulation will probably give you ways of saving costs and making your building a nicer place for everyone. Many councils run advice centres that can help people with this work.
There's been a lot of talk about saving energy in the home. For many people - especially those in private rented accommodation, though, the options are limited. That's why community-based approaches can be more effective. Neighbourhood energy plans can improve energy efficiency in a whole street or estate and do it much more economically, while at the same time creating training and work opportunities for local people.
Cutting waste is one route to cleaner streets and energy saving. We're all used to seeing recycling points for glass bottles and cans. But the priority isn't recycling - it's sping waste happening in the first place. Community groups can help people reduce waste by running schemes to re-use things like paint, clothing, furniture and books that people no longer want. Charity shops are an excellent example of re-using material that would otherwise be wasted.
Looking After Wildlife and Open Spaces
We all share our local environment - not just with other people but also with an often surprising variety of plants and animals. The woods or the green may be a place for us to walk the dog or play football, but for other species they're home.
Community groups can get involved in surveying the wildlife and open spaces they live alongside. Knowing what's there is the first step to looking after it. Data from surveys can become ammunition in campaigns to s the development of open space, for example.
There are many opportunities to make new homes for wildlife. Community gardens, for example, or wildlife areas in school grounds, provide homes for species and help people get closer to the natural world. Gardens at hospitals and care homes are used as part of the treatment and care programmes.