Henley’s climate emergency centre: the findings of our public consultation
During Great Big Green Week in September, nearly 60 Henley residents came together in the Town Hall for a public consultation to express their views on a proposed climate emergency centre in Henley. A number of Henley Town Council dignitaries including the Mayor attended in their personal capacities as participants.
Participants at the consultation were asked the followings questions:
- What do you think the purpose of the climate emergency centre in Henley should be?
- What services/activities/events could this centre provide?
- What will be the key challenges in setting up and maintaining the centre?
- What benefit could this centre be to the community?
We set out the key findings of the public consultation below.
In relation to the purpose of the proposed centre, the following themes emerged from the consultation:
To educate and raise awareness:
The consultation findings strongly suggested that education should be prioritised as a key purpose, in order to raise awareness and promote understanding of the climate and nature emergency in the local community. The participants felt that the centre should help people to really understand the impact of their daily decisions and buying habits. The findings highlighted the need to inspire change through positive messaging, and the participants conversely noted how negative messaging around crisis/fear can be unhelpful.
To provide a green network:
A recurring theme was that the centre should serve as a ‘one stop shop’ for all things ‘green’. It should be the physical manifestation of a ‘green’ network – a place where existing clubs, groups, businesses and initiatives, as well as Henley Town Council, could connect and collaborate on issues around sustainability.
To build community & resilience:
The consultation indicated that the centre should also play a key role in both building community and strengthening community resilience – that is, our capacity to cope with and adapt to the challenges and change that lie ahead as a result of the emergency. The centre should foster social interaction and provide a friendly place for like-minded people to meet and mobilise to push for change. It should promote the sharing of best practice, and be a place for people to learn and share skills and knowledge.
To engage the whole community:
Interestingly, throughout the consultation there was a strong theme of connecting like-minded people, but it was also emphasised that it was important for the centre to engage the whole community and not just speak to an ‘eco’ echo chamber. On this point, a number of participants pointed out that the centre needed to have an element of “coolness” or “sexiness” in order to reach beyond those who might already be actively interested in green issues, and so be aspirational to a wider audience.
Services and events
The findings revealed a wide range of services and events that the centre could provide, from teen clothes and toys swaps, bicycle cafes and repair shops, to upcycling and recycling workshops, sewing, and knitting classes, eco-library, food waste reduction events, hosting of school debates, as well as workshops on energy saving and gardening to encourage nature. It is notable that there was an emphasis on getting young people involved, with suggestions such as family events, engaging young people, and class challenges for schools.
The findings acknowledged that the proposed centre faces significant challenges, principally finding suitable premises that have a prominent position with good footfall as well as securing funding. Other strong themes that emerged here were the challenge of building a strong team of volunteers for the centre and keeping them engaged, and the need to maintain an apolitical stance.
Benefit to the Community
With the support of the community, the proposed climate emergency centre could become a valuable asset to Henley and provide a number of benefits. The centre would work to bring the whole community together in the face of the challenges posed by the climate and nature emergency. It would raise awareness and accelerate action locally to create change, such as providing the information and know-how for our community to work together to increase biodiversity. As a ‘one stop shop’ and through its services and events, it would provide education, information, and practical support to help residents in Henley and surrounding villages live a cleaner, greener life. It would help promote sustainable lifestyle choices, and build community resilience in the face of the challenges ahead.
Greener Henley has been working hard since this public consultation on our continued engagement with schools and businesses to raise awareness of the emergency, and on rolling out a programme of education around how our food choices impact on our carbon and ecological footprint. We are therefore already carrying out one of the key purposes of the proposed centre around education & raising awareness. However, we acknowledge that having a physical space in the form of a climate emergency centre would provide a whole host of benefits that can only be achieved with a physical premises, which would enable us, vitally, to reach a far wider audience and be much more visible. Any such premises must be in central Henley.
On the theme of education & awareness, it was notable that during the consultation there was sparse mention of the top three actions that individuals can take to reduce their Earth impact. This underlines the urgent need to educate around the carbon and ecological footprint of our food choices (a reduction of meat, fish and dairy is likely the biggest single thing that individuals can do on a regular, daily basis to reduce this), bringing an end to fossil fuel reliance by divestment of pensions, savings and investments, and switching to a renewable energy provider.
We are currently laying the building blocks for getting the centre off the ground, principally exploring possibilities for suitable central premises (and we are mindful this may take some time) as well as looking into funding for key roles. In tandem with this we are working on forming a Steering Committee and we aim to meet over the next few months – do get in touch if you are interested. Thank you to those of you who have offered to be part of the team of climate emergency centre volunteers, we will be in touch with updates in due course, but meanwhile if you are interested in playing a key role in helping get this project off the ground, please contact us at [email protected].
We would like to convey our huge thanks to Mayor of Henley, Cllr Michelle Thomas, who has given her support to this venture and has chosen Greener Henley as one of the Mayor’s Charities.