THE SO TOOLKIT
01. DECLARE A CLIMATE EMERGENCY
HOW SUSTAINABLE OVERTON WAS BORN
In September 2019, Overton Parish Council, along with Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council, and many other councils throughout the UK, declared a Climate Emergency. As most of you will be aware, this is a UK-wide grassroots movement by ordinary people as well as local authorities who care about our environment. The goal is to become a carbon neutral community by 2030. This is an ambitious goal, perhaps not achievable in this timeframe, but we realise that action needs to happen now to prevent catastrophic and irreversible damage.
The initial request came from a parishioner in the first instance, and then was voted on by Overton Parish Council. The vote was not unanimous: 6 for and 4 against. This highlighted the first obstacle that other parishes may face: gaining support.
WHY YOU NEED PARISH COUNCIL SUPPORT
Financial history: if you want to apply for energy grants, such as the RCEF (Rural Community Energy Fund), you need a financial history. A Parish Council can provide this. As the project is set up you will probably need to set up some form of cooperative or similar (more of this in our energy toolkit here), it is probably only a temporary situation, but one that enables you to get started.
Credibility: being part of the Parish Council lends major credibility and opens doors. I doubt if we could have achieved half of what we have if we were not linked to them, and had Parish Councillors working with us.
HOW TO GAIN SUPPORT FROM THE PARISH OR TOWN COUNCIL
It became clear during the vote that the concept of an “climate emergency declaration” was either unknown to most people, or it proved an unattractive concept. It may help to understand the variety and complexity of valid reasons for not wanting to declare, so that these can be listened to and addressed beforehand:
Too high a workload: Once a council declares this it could involve a huge amount of work – and many councillors are already working full time, and volunteer as parish councillors in their spare time. If they are already at capacity, and many are, extra work of this nature seems untenable. Particularly if there are vacant spaces on the council.
Ways to work around this: Trying to recruit and co-opt some more councillors if there are vacancies can clearly help this, so workloads can be shared out. Also, finding existing councillors or volunteers who are prepared to give their time can also mitigate this. You can do a lot with a willing and enthusiastic group of volunteers.
What are we as a Parish Council supposed to do? There can be an understandable reluctance to take something like this on, as once a “climate emergency” is declared, the residents will expect to see some action. And what action should it be? It can seem overwhelming as a small village to tackle what is not just a UK wide issue but a global problem.
How to counteract this: Having some clear, realistic objectives and strategies can be useful to help mitigate this concern. The role of a Parish Council in this instance is to engage with the local community, make clear and simple information available, and encourage people to make a few small changes. If these are also money-saving, it is very easy and empowering for people to do. If everyone “does their bit”, that starts to add up to a significant change. Multiply this by many parishes, many counties……change really can initiate from a grassroots level. Also, this can empower local residents to feel they are “doing their bit” in an area which is a grave concern to many. Also, it will show positive visible action, which is a great story for the annual parish meeting.
What difference can we make, we’re just a small village? This is the “look at what China/the USA are doing…..” argument. And a valid point. However, this underestimates the power of small groups of people to create lasting and significant change. To overcome this concern, you could point out that if a parishioner, or even better a group of parishioners, have requested that the council do this, then is it not the council’s role to support their views? You could also highlight some of the benefits of declaring a climate emergency that we discovered later on: engendering a real sense of community, creating a feeling of empowerment against a depressing and concerning situation, and leading to kudos and positive appreciation for the Council, as they are seen to be tackling this. Many of the activities we do can create a real sense of wellbeing too, which is important. Also, this is in line with the strategy from BDBC and Hampshire County Council, and also the Government’s own strategy (although this is 2050 carbon zero target).