Colmers Hill by Colin Tracy

The Difference Community Groups Can Make: A Spotlight On Dorset Climate Action Network

A community group: a group of people who work for the benefit of the public, particularly in their local area. Community groups, fortunately, are numerous, and diverse in their raisons d’etre. Sports clubs, health support groups, community orchards and fridges, sustainability organisations, First Responders… once you start thinking about them, the list is endless. Thank goodness, because they are the ones that make an enormous difference where it matters – at a local level. While we need change from the top down, we need to be building from the ground up and there are so many wonderful people out there doing just that.

CEO of The Word Forest Organisation, Tracey West says, “I’ll be honest, community-led environmental groups can be quite exhausting to get involved with, but in the best way as they’re by far the most rewarding. I say, ‘exhausting’ because once you find yourself connected to people who speak your language, who are motivated by the same things you are, you feel at home, you want to do all you can to evoke positive change. You can end up wanting to green up your entire neighbourhood!

Helping people on your home turf to lean towards the green is incredibly empowering. Seeing the results on your own doorstep often fuels your desire to do more. Once I realised grassroots activism was such a powerful tool to mitigate climate chaos, I found myself ready to lend my elbow to the environmental challenges that other communities were facing in different parts of the country. From setting up local Transition Town groups, providing anti-fracking solidarity in Lancashire, to joining the locals at Climate Camp in Merthyr Tydfil to protest against open cast mining; everything counts and occasionally, the taste of victory is sweet.”

This week we thought we’d shine a light on a relatively new group which, despite having been in existence for less than a year, is already championing some seriously important initiatives. Here’s what one of the coordinators, Vicki Elcoate, had to say:

“Dorset Climate Action Network (CAN) was galvanised into existence last autumn.  Its first tasks were to review and engage others in commenting on the impending Dorset Local Plan and Dorset Council’s Climate and Ecological Emergency Strategy (CEES). Creating an organisation – particularly a county wide network – from scratch and engaging, motivating and inspiring people to be active participants takes time and energy. From the hard work of the few there were soon Zoom meetings taking place during deepest lockdown, with 100 people in the virtual room and another 50 on the waiting list.  

Dorset CAN is about linking up people all over the county; people who have brilliant ideas about cutting carbon emissions and addressing seemingly intractable issues like transport and energy, people who are passionate about restoring nature. The climate and ecological emergency is so serious and so pressing that it would be impossible not to get stuck in.

The first priorities were to submit detailed responses on the Local Plan and the CEES. The latter was submitted on behalf of 26 organisations representing 3,500 people, as well as individuals.

In the past few months Dorset Climate Action Network has produced a logo, a website https://www.dorsetcan.news/, regular newsletters and a constitution. There are dozens of people involved, in teams which meet regularly to get better informed and plan practical action. It will soon have agreed its vision, mission and strategic aims and hold a meeting for founder members, where we plan to show The Word Forest Organisation documentary, #TreesAreTheKey.

We welcome founder members who want to be active supporters of the most important enterprise we can all engage with – taking action on climate change. We are there to support, motivate and encourage others and be creative and passionate. 

I still haven’t met nearly everyone in Dorset CAN except on a screen. It will be interesting to see them in 3D at last. You can sign up as a founder member here: https://mailchi.mp/7bc1cfccd6d6/membership

Wow! Dorset CAN have achieved a huge amount in a very short time. More power to their elbow and please do check out their newsletter, there’s some excellent stuff going on! Bear in mind also that, while front line action isn’t for everyone, there are so many things group members can do in the back office! There are critical roles of every kind to fill, from writing articles, doing social media, distributing leaflets and organising events, right through to simply making cakes and restorative cups of tea: as mentioned above, all positive actions matter.

There’s no time to sit back and wait for governments to come up with pioneering solutions to save our planet – we’ve got to do that in our homes, on our own streets. Greta said, “Our house is on fire” – how right she was and how much better it is to get active with a brilliant community eco-group right now, rather than waiting until we find ourselves up the creek without a paddle or a neighbour to paddle with.

 Vicki Elcoate and Tracey West

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