Glasgow communities showing COP leaders the way
14 November 2021
10 minute read
With so much happening around COP26, we wanted to ground ourselves in what communities are doing, day in, day out, to build a better future. There is so much creativity, energy and impact in these local initiatives, decision-makers could learn a thing or two, not least about what is possible when we come together with the starting point that things can and need to be done differently.
And when we’re feeling despondent about a lack of political action, it does us good to glimpse a future that is fair, fun-filled, creative, inclusive and sustainable, and to be reminded that it is already here, in pockets of delight, right now, even right under the noses of the COP talks.
So take a stroll with us around the streets of Glasgow, much quieter now the circus has left town, but where these amazing people are still carrying on with making their vision a reality. Maybe you’ll find a project that gives you inspiration or hope, or a new idea to try in your own place.
Let’s start on the southside and pop in on the Green Guardians…
The Green Guardians are growing, sewing, sharing and repairing to help their local community and the planet. Every day, there is something going on at their base, Woodfarm Education Centre, owned and managed by the Muslim community in the Giffnock area of Glasgow.
They focus on practical steps that help people learn to live more sustainably together. At the swap shop people share unwanted clothes and household items. The sewing club upcycles and mends. In September, a tool library opened, so people can get what they need without each needing to own it.
They get kids growing, cooking and caring for their planet – then the kids wrote a guide for families to get their parents involved! Adults who’ve never had the chance to get on a bike before can learn to cycle and join in group rides. There’s a community garden, food sharing and cooking workshops to increase local food and decrease food waste.
We love that the Green Guardians welcomed COP26 with a family fun day – shame delegates probably didn’t find time to attend and see such an inspiring project building a different future for this community!
Just up the road is Repair Cafe Glasgow…
Since 2017, volunteers from Repair Cafe Glasgow have held drop in repair events in the southside of the city. They’ve mended almost 1,000kg of household appliances, gadgets, clothes, bikes, toys, clocks and much more for local residents. A cuppa, home-baked treats and a friendly welcome are always an important part of the experience.
Jon Dawes, one of the founders, said: “It’s about more than getting gadgets fixed. It’s about making repair easy, normal and sharing skills so people can go on to fix things for themselves. Doing it together is the key – it’s much more fun and you can see the difference you are making to individual visitors and the wider community. We always say our mission is saving the world – one toaster at a time!”
The team has grown from 4 volunteers to more than 30 and is helping communities as far away as the Highlands and the Isle of Jura start their own repair projects.
Neighbouring Pollokshields is getting powered up…
Last year, two Glasgow schools were fitted with solar panels to generate cheaper, greener power for classrooms and funds for the community. Glasgow Community Energy installed them and the panels are owned by their shareholders from the local community.
The first step was deep engagement with the community around the schools, in Easterhouse and Pollokshields, giving pupils the chance to see solar cells and batteries up close and taking time to build relationships locally.
The green electricity is sold back to the council, helping it achieve emissions targets and giving a reliable income to Glasgow Community Energy. As a community benefit society, the profit is then used to support local projects.
Calum Watkins, one of 9 volunteer directors who run the project said: “We hope to be able to distribute £5,000 a year from these two sites; if we get more sites, there would be more.”
Glasgow Community Energy have used COP to show community-owned power can speed the transition to renewables while building community wealth and a sense that local people can shape their future. They’re also looking at green power generation on some of the city’s 9% land lying derelict or vacant, much more prevalent in the city’s less well-off areas. “That’s the vision of it. It’s not just about selling cheaper energy to the council, we really want it to be about people and poverty,” says Calum.
Across the city for a quick cuppa at a community-owned hub…
Lambhill Stables is a vibrant community-owned space in the north of Glasgow, where people come together to grow, eat, learn and create.
Built as a staging post along Scotland’s Forth and Clyde canal network, it was lying derelict until the local community took it over in 2007 and rebuilt it over four years.
From a run-down shell, it now hosts more than 20 weekly activity groups and has more than 1,000 local members. A one-acre community garden supplies the kitchen and café. Along with an onsite bike shop, they cater to locals and visitors who walk or cycle the historic canals. These community-owned social enterprises invest the income back in what local people need: giving young people a space to meet, running a kids’ environment club or activities that connect people and combat isolation.
The Stables hosted pilgrims walking to COP26, groups from The Soil Association and the Dutch Urgenda Foundation, delighted to show how one local community on the outskirts of the host city is coming together to make their environment and life better for its residents.
Heading back into the city we stop off at the Concrete Garden…
For more than ten years, Concrete Garden projects have offered space for food growing, connecting, volunteering, and gathering on formerly disused land in the Possilpark area of Glasgow.
On paper, it has some of the most challenging stats in the UK for health, inequality, poverty, and education. But Mo McCormick says there is much more to this community: “the data fails to capture the positive community spirit in Possilpark. Projects like ours make a real difference because we look at people’s strengths. We support people to find a sense of self, and to feel empowered in their own ability to improve the well-being of this community and themselves.”
The Concrete Garden was redesigned and rebuilt by users in 2017, many of whom had the chance to undertake permaculture design training. There are individual beds and shared plots, and the gardens offer a mix of social gardening, volunteering and therapeutic gardening which is much in demand. There are also outdoor cookery facilities for shared meals, urban chickens, and herbal/medicinal gardens. The Back Garden has the addition of an outdoor play area and play project for local children, which is over-subscribed.
The Back Garden and Outdoor Play team are exploring how the land they’ve brought back into use and made valuable to the local community could be transferred into community hands. It looks like a path with some challenges along the way, but owning land allows projects like the Concrete Garden to plan with sureness, to dream big, and take control of building a better future for their neighbourhoods.
Last stop on our tour, a new woodland with spectacular views across the city…
The first new forest within the Glasgow city limits was planted last month, by schoolchildren from across the city. The project began in 2020, when a group of volunteers came up with the wild idea to give every primary school child in Glasgow an acorn to grow into their very own tree and plant them all together at a yet-to-be found place.
Alex MacKenzie was reading her daughter a story by Kenyan activist Wangari Maathai, about children collecting seeds from a threatened forest, when the first seed for Glasgow Children’s Woodland was planted: “It was crazy but wonderful. It was so simple in its form that people could identify with it. The logistics were vast and the scale was huge, but people bought in to it.”
In October, a 13 hectare site overlooking the city near Castlemilk was transformed from bare fields with little native saplings. One boy said, as he planted his tree: “The planet needs our help, so we need to try and do the best we can.”
The project has been about so much more than increasing the number of trees in Glasgow. It’s about connecting children from across the city, including special schools, Gaelic language schools and home educators, with nature and giving them a living symbol of their ability to make an impact and shape their future. For the city as a whole, it leaves a lasting legacy of hosting #COP26.
This is just a snapshot of Glasgow; there is much more worth visiting in this city alone. And there are inspiring community responses like these across the country. But what if they were everywhere? Joined up and supporting each other? What if local and national governments created a supportive environment for them to emerge and thrive?
Connecting, amplifying and giving practical support to communities like this, trying to build a better future, is exactly what Transition Together exists for. The groups above are all members of our sister network Scottish Community Climate Action Network (SCCAN).
Locally, doing this work together helps to keep us going, to have more impact and to reach beyond our own circles. And plugging in to a wider network of other groups also developing grassroots climate responses can help our local ideas and projects to flourish, help us learn and share with others that have the vision of more sustainable and equal communities where we have control over our day to day lives.